As of 22 September 2020, 213 countries had reported 31,174,627 cases of COVID-19, including 962,613 deaths to WHO. Besides the disastrous impact on human life and economy, COVID-19 has overwhelmed the health systems across the world. The early experience in countries with large-scale community transmission required unprecedented mobilisation and preparedness of health systems. Many countries enforced lockdown to reduce the spread of infection and improve preparedness. The media has a vital role in communicating credible evidence-based information and advocating implementation of public health measures. It is, therefore, essential to have a comprehensive risk communication strategy to protect people’s health. Old people and those with underlying medical conditions are at great risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and need to be protected. Safety of health care workers being at greater risk of infection also need to be ensured. Countries need to increase their surge capacity to treat COVID-19 patients while maintaining essential health services. Ramping up readiness and response capacities at all times, requires country-level coordination, a strong epidemiology, laboratory capacity and network, robust surveillance and early warning system, supported by the logistics and supply chain management for life saving medicines and essential technologies. The plan can be fully implemented only if there are enough trained staff available in their respective jobs. The International Health Regulation (2005), a legally binding treaty on all WHO member countries, creates obligation to detect, assess and report public health events. The enormous potential of national institutions and individual experts must be unleashed to deliver uninhibitedly on its mandate, and establish effective international collaborations. Finally, countries must ensure self-reliance in diagnostics, drugs and vaccine, follow science and evidence-based policy formulation and allocate adequate resources for responding to future pandemics. One must never forget that COVID-19 is neither the first nor the last pandemic to hit humanity.
Keywords: COVID-19; health system response; pandemic; public health