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To Stop a Pandemic - A Better Approach to Global Health Security

Jennifer Nuzzo
Date posted:
December 08, 2020
Publication type:
Foreign Affairs
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The COVID-19 pandemic, in the words of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), “is a once-in-a-century health crisis.” Indeed, the last public health emergency to wreak such havoc was the great influenza pandemic that began in 1918, which sickened about a third of the world’s population and killed at least 50 million people. But because global conditions are becoming increasingly hospitable to viral spread, the current pandemic is unlikely to be the last one the world faces this century. It may not even be the worst.

The novel coronavirus hit a world that was singularly unprepared for it. Lacking the capacity to stop the spread of the virus through targeted measures—namely, testing and tracing—countries were left with few options but to shut down their economies and order people to stay at home. Those policies worked well enough to slow the growth of cases by late spring. But over the summer and into the fall, governments faced pressure to relax those restrictions, and cases rose. On November 4, more than 685,000 new cases worldwide were reported in a single day—then an all-time high. By that point, more than 48 million people had been infected with COVID-19, and more than 1.2 million had died.

The economic and societal effects of the pandemic will linger for decades. Worldwide productivity is expected to have contracted by five percent in 2020. The United States alone has suffered an estimated $16 trillion cost from lost productivity, premature deaths, and sickness. More than one billion children around the world have had their schooling interrupted. The World Bank has warned that some 150 million additional people will enter the ranks of extreme poverty as a result of the pandemic.



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