Difficult to tackle public health crisis amid divisiveness; take new virus variants seriously: Fauci

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New Delhi/Davos, Jan 25 (PTI) A public health crisis is difficult to be tackled when there is divisiveness in a country and it can be a really harmful message when wearing a mask becomes a political statement, eminent physician-scientist Dr Anthony Fauci said on Monday.

He said that the new variants of the virus must be taken seriously and paid attention to it as it evolves, though the good news is that it does not seem to affect the efficacy of the vaccine.

Speaking at a panel discussion on 'Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis' at the World Economic Forum's online Davos Agenda Summit, Fauci said, 'In the US, one of the key findings was the challenges of divisiveness and the politicisation of the crisis.' 'It makes it extremely problematic to address a public health crisis when you are in the middle of divisiveness in the country,' said Fauci, Director, US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

'When public health issues become politically charged -- when wearing or not wearing a mask is a political statement -- you can't imagine how harmful that is to a public health message,' he said.

Close to 10 crore people have got infected and over 21 lakh have died of COVID-19 since its outbreak was first reported in China in late 2019.

At the same panel, Greece Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said responding to the COVID-19 crisis is not rocket science.

Drawing from lessons from Greece's efforts to counter the pandemic, he said, 'Go with what the experts tell you. If you have to take a bold decision, especially if it's painful economically, take it early.' Nancy Brown, American Heart Association CEO, said there is a need to rethink how health care is delivered in America.

'The pandemic shone a light on the vulnerabilities of the health care system... But I want to give a shout-out to the healthcare workers who have worked tirelessly to serve the people in their communities,' she said.

Frans van Houten, CEO of Royal Philips, emphasised the importance of creating a 'supply chain that worked.' 'When a crisis hits, you should not have the path of action to say, 'me first.' We have to collaborate to scale the response,' he added.

Fauci emphasised the importance of getting the second dose of the vaccine as suggested to ensure protection against the virus and the variants. Fauci also argued that we must be prepared to update the vaccine as the variants evolved.

'The vaccines that we are using now will be good against both the mutant in South Africa and the UK,' he said. 'Having said that, this is an evolving situation, so what we need to do, and are doing, is already looking to making an upgraded version of the vaccine that could address both the South Africa mutant and the one in the UK.' On when will life return to normal, Mitsotakis said it depends on the vaccinations and compliance of basic public health practices to prevent the spread.

'We want to make it easier for people to travel when they get vaccinated. Until then, it's touch and go,' he added.

Brown said the pandemic has shone a light on the need for universal health coverage.

'For us to have people live longer healthier lives -- in a pandemic or not -- starts with every person having access to high quality, affordable health care,' she said.

Brown further said bandaids should not be put on old systems as the world needs to build new systems.

Fauci also said global organisations like WHO are key to ensuring preparedness for future public health risks. The US announced its intent to rejoin the World Health Organization this week.

'We need global health security We need transparency, communication, collaboration and the solidarity we all talk about. If we don't have that, it becomes, maybe not impossible but problematic, to address an emerging public health outbreak,' he added. PTI BJ RAM