The Independent Panel begins its work on how and why COVID-19 became a global pandemic and what lessons can be learned

Panel sets Terms of Reference to enable it to distil lessons learned and make recommendations aimed at ensuring better protection of human health and economic and social wellbeing.

GENEVA – 18 September 2020

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response aims to establish the timeline and events which culminated in COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic, and to make recommendations aimed at safeguarding human health and economic and social wellbeing in the face of future global health threats. 

The Independent Panel held its first meeting, virtually, on 17 September 2020, as global COVID-19 cases surpassed thirty million known people infected, and more than 940,000 deaths. 

“The Independent Panel believes the world could have done better,” said Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and Panel Co-Chair, in her opening remarks to the meeting. 

“We’ve had years of warnings about a pandemic, and have institutions, instruments, and plans that were designed to protect us. But, in most places, the systems and plans have not worked as intended. I hope that as a result of our independent work, we will be able to determine why the systemic breakdowns and inadequacies have persisted for so long.” 

An urgent part of this work will be to establish the timeline of the first known cases of COVID-19, the reporting of that, and the subsequent actions taken by the World Health Organization (WHO) and countries as the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread from one reported locale to almost every country in the world.  

“While we are clear that The Independent Panel must shed light on what has happened and why, this exercise is not a blame game” said Rt. Hon Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Co-Chair of the Panel.  

“It is about truth-seeking, distilling lessons learned and making recommendations for how collectively the world can be better prepared to respond, both as this pandemic rolls on and as future potential pandemics loom.”

The Co-Chairs noted that the Panel will review the state of the pandemic and evidence on the work that has been done to minimise the health and societal impacts of the pandemic, including both in global guidance and in country responses.

Terms of Reference provide the framework

During its meeting, the thirteen Independent Panel members discussed the Terms of Reference for the Panel. These include the Panel’s task to review experience gained and lessons learned from the international health response to COVID-19 as co-ordinated by WHO, and as mandated by the 73rd World Health Assembly.

The Terms of Reference underscore that the Panel will work openly and transparently, and will seek the best possible advice, experience, and knowledge. The Panel will consult widely to seek evidence and views from a broad range of people, including from WHO, Member States, health experts, economists, specialists on the social impacts of the pandemic, and from civil society, the private sector and from the general public – including from those people who have suffered the longer-term impacts of COVID-19. 

Thematic Areas for the Program of Work

A critical priority and theme for the Panel is to explore strengthening of the international system which has oversight of global health security to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

It will review the present pandemic from its initial phase, including the global alerts about it, its spread, country responses, and its wide societal impact. Here, the Panel will learn more about the actions and responses by international organisations, including WHO, along with those of countries. Questions include to what degree the WHO and countries adhered to their obligations under the International Health Regulations, including on issues of timing, alerts, and response. 

The Panel will also analyse the broader impacts of the pandemic including societal and economic questions. It will look at the factors that made some health systems more resilient than others. It will examine why some countries were able to protect people better from the virus and from greater economic harm while others could not.  The question of the ‘infodemic’ of misinformation will also be analysed, including how issues of trust in WHO, governments, and science impacted the pandemic’s dynamics.

“The Panel wants its recommendations to be evidence-based, practical, and people-centred,” Helen Clark said. “It is committed to making recommendations that will make a real difference for future global health security.”

Methodologies for Gathering Evidence and Facts

The Independent Panel discussed methodologies for collecting information. These will include desk research, including from literature reviews and internal documents; expert hearings; commissioning papers on key topics; compiling case studies; conducting in-depth interviews; and holding open hearings and consultations, including through web surveys.

The Panel will co-ordinate with existing review committees, including the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, the International Health Regulations Review Committee, and the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee.

“I hope that our work leads to bold, credible, robust and implementable solutions that ensure our world is better prepared for the next pandemic,” Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told the Panel. “This is the challenge before us. And it is a challenge we must rise to face together.”

Next Steps

The Secretariat is now supporting the Independent Panel to finalise the Program of Work, the specific methodologies to be used to gather evidence, and the timeline for consultations, engagements, and reporting. The Panel will meet as a group approximately every six weeks. 

Scheduled reporting includes a Co-Chair briefing to the WHO Executive Board at its session scheduled 5-6 October.  The Independent Panel will present a progress report to the resumed 73rd World Health Assembly scheduled from 9-14 November, and a second progress report to the WHO Executive Board scheduled from 18-26 January 2021. The Panel will then report to the 74th World Health Assembly in in May 2021. 

Documents from the first Independent Panel meeting have been published on

For more information

See the Independent Panel’s website:  Media and other stakeholders interested in continued updates on the Independent Panel can join the mailing list from the website.  

Media enquiries can be directed to Christine McNab, Independent Panel Communication Lead;, and at +1 416 986 2068 (residing in Toronto, Canada).

Enquiries to the Secretariat:

Scroll to Top