Coronavirus one year on: how do we prepare for the next Big One?

It’s hard to believe but novel coronavirus was only identified one year ago. It’s not the first pandemic to hit the world and won’t be the last but has been a life changer for everyone.  Scientists were not surprised that a virus that proved to be a serious new threat finally materialised.

Kevin Ariën, virologist at the Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp: “We’d known for some time a Big One was heading our way.  We could also have guessed that it would be a coronavirus.”

“Coronaviruses are a big family of viruses that are widespread among animals.  We knew that some coronaviruses could jump from animal to man.  We experienced this during the SARS epidemic in 2002/3 and MERS in 2013.  In only a couple of days SARS arrived on all continents. Our way of life is an open invitation for pandemics of this kind.”

“The difficulty lies in predicting when a pandemic will occur and which virus will be involved.  Preparing for a pandemic remains an expensive theoretical exercise”.

“As soon as the precise threat of an epidemic passes, investments quickly stop”.

“Things will always be forgotten” says Prof Steven Callens, expert in infectious diseases at Ghent University. “Tracking down the next pandemic isn’t a solution to the problem.  An epidemic will always hit the lowest social classes hardest.  Everybody can catch Covid, but the ramifications of quarantine are far greater for single mums.  It can mean the last push into poverty”.

“That’s why for me it’s more important to invest in combating poverty, in education, equal opportunities and the climate.  That’s how we should prepare for the next pandemic.”

Corona measures across the globe are unprecedented.  Coronavirus may be particularly catchy, but Prof Callens notes that the speed with which information about the virus was shared across the globe was also marvellous: “As a result a vaccine could reach the market in no time and that is really exceptional”.

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