COVID-19: Interview with Mimi Kodheli on the pandemic crisis, its significance, its challenges, and the related responses

12 June 2020

Mimi Kodheli, Head of the Albanian Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, highlights the cooperative effort and measures taken by Allies to limit the spread of the coronavirus and reflects on the lessons learned and the practical steps required to create effective crisis management mechanisms to prevent future pandemics.

4 questions with Mimi Kodheli:

I.    Allied efforts to provide resources and humanitarian assistance to the hardest-hit countries has been critical to help Allies and partners cope with this unprecedented crisis. Could you tell us how Albania has used NATO structures to help others and how Albania has benefitted from other Allies’ help over the course of the crisis?

On March 23rd, 2020, the Albanian Government declared a state of natural disaster emergency due to the outbreak of COVID-19. 

As almost all other NATO members, Albania has bilaterally given and received assistance from Allied countries in response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, based on requests for assistance circulated via the EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) and the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC).

On March 27th, the Government of Albania submitted to EADRCC a request for international assistance in accordance with the procedures at reference. In response to this request:

-    Austria offered, through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, the following in-kind assistance to Albania: 1 000 packages of examination gloves size M (100 000 pieces), 1 000 packages of examination gloves size L (200 000 pieces) and 3 740 litres of hand disinfectant according to WHO standard on 4 IBC (Euro-pallets);

-    The United States (through US European Command) provided the following supplies to the "Mother Teresa" University Hospital Center in Tirana, Albania on 9 April: 3000 surgical masks (sizes L/XL 50%/50%), 400 N95/P2 masks (sizes L/XL 50%/50%), 400 gowns (sizes L/XL 50%/50%), 200 pairs of protective goggles, 200 protective visors, and 7,000 pairs of gloves(sizes L/XL 50%/50%). 
The United States (through USAID) has also provided approximately USD 12.4 million in assistance as of April 17 to Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, the Institutions of Kosovo, Moldova, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Ukraine to help activate case management and surveillance mechanisms, prepare laboratory systems, support Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) in health facilities, and share risk communication information with at-risk populations throughout the region.

-    Hungary, bilaterally, provided Albania with 100 000 masks and 5 000 sets of protective clothes.

-    Poland, bilaterally, provided Albania with 100 000 masks and 10.500 L of disinfectant.

We express our gratitude to all of these countries.
Meanwhile, in response to Italy’s request for medical support to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic:

-    Albania sent, on a bilateral basis, 30 doctors and nurses to Italy. (31 March, Albanian Armed Forces) Albania has renewed its commitment to helping Italy face the coronavirus pandemic by sending an additional 60 nurses. The nurses arrived in Rome on 20 April and were sent to serve in different hospitals in Italy. (23 April, Albanian Ministry of Defence)

II.    What additional steps should NATO and Allied armed forces take to support the national and international response to the COVID-19 crisis?

COVID-19 pandemic crisis was and still is one of the most serious global threats in modern times affecting dramatically all our nations and our way of life. It constitutes a real and tangible danger directly threatening our lives, our health, our economy, and our security. 

Unfortunately, we proved to be unprepared and very poorly equipped to adequately face this unprecedented crisis, not only individually but also collectively. Our governments as well as our organisations strived to address as best they could this multifaceted challenge. However, their approaches and their actions, especially at the beginning, were often chaotic, different from each other, isolated, and uncoordinated. Consequently, the situation became very critical for the Alliance too.

I totally agree with President Attila Mesterhazy rightly stressing that “We must build on the many forms of solidarity and cooperation between NATO nations in response to this crisis and, together, start learning the first lessons”. 

First of all, we should include the viral pandemic (such as COVID-19) at the top of the list of the most dangerous threats in modern times. Then, we need to start immediately to work to build up early warning, prevention, and crisis management mechanisms, create specific structures and establish adequate protocols in order to respond to similar crises in a more rapid, effective, coordinated, and solidary manner. 

III.    Ensuring public access to transparent, timely, and accurate information about COVID-19 is critical to counter disinformation and propaganda efforts during the crisis. Allies and NATO continue providing factual information to combat these efforts. But how could they step up their efforts against such disinformation and propaganda?

From the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen an exceptional flow of information, misinformation and disinformation cross-fired by different sources. Propaganda and conspiracy theories have been flourishing over the internet. But what’s totally uncommon, is that we have witnessed, like never before, cases when not only falsehood and disinformation sources but even serious sources, including governmental ones, have delivered totally contradictory information and misinformation too. Without going into the reasons of such phenomena, that can be of different character, from political to technical, I am of the opinion that NATO as well as other international organisations have, among others, the important task to monitor, identify, condemn, and counter false narratives and disinformation that present a serious risk to all of us.

In this context of troubled torrents of information and misinformation, the Organisation managed to keep a right balance, delivering trustful news, reliable, and valuable information. However, in my opinion, the information coming from NATO remained inside the circle of the institutions and people dealing with the Organisation and did not reach the large public. The public’s attention was mostly oriented to the information coming from health, scientific, and economic institutions, while NATO and the governmental institutions did not do enough to largely broadcast the information originating from the Organisation.   

IV.    What role do parliamentarians play in this crisis? And what role can inter-parliamentary diplomacy, including within the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, play to mitigate this crisis and prepare for the next crisis?

The role of the parliamentarians in this crisis is important in three ways: legislating and adopting important bills appropriate to the present situation and to potential similar future crises; influencing the government in the process of decision-taking; representing their electors properly, and dealing with their worries and problems.

Another dimension of their role is inter-parliamentary diplomacy, which provides Allied legislators with a platform to exchange information, experiences, and discuss important issues related to the present situation and future threats of the same nature in order to better face and respond more adequately to these challenges. 

Mimi Kodheli, Head of the Albanian Delegation to the NATO PA

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