As COVID turns 3, experts worry about next pandemic and if we’re ready


For years, public health experts warned of the possibility of an illness spreading across the globe killing millions. After all, it had happened before.

Measures were in place around the world to spot early signs of a never-before-seen bug with dangerous potential.

That’s why on Dec. 31, 2019, China notified the World Health Organization that a novel pathogen was circulating in Wuhan, the most populous city in central China. A day later, in that city of 12 million, a wet market selling live animals was shuttered because of fears it was the source of the virus that would later be named SARS-CoV-2.

Three years later, the risk of a deadly pathogen spreading around the world remains.

Now, in addition to worrying about a virus that might jump from animals to humans, experts are concerned about research accidents and – what should be unthinkable – the possibility of someone intentionally unleashing a highly contagious and lethal pathogen. 

A pandemic has long been known to be far riskier for global security than conventional, nuclear or chemical warfare, said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of public health law at Georgetown University and a leading expert in global health.

“We’ve seen that play out with COVID and COVID is far from the worst pandemic threat that we face,” he said.

Although it has so far killed more than 6.6 million people worldwide, other pandemics have been more lethal. The 1918 flu, for instance, is estimated to have cost 50 million lives across the globe, and in the 14th century, the Black Death killed between 30% and 60% of all Europeans in just four years. 

Public health and national defense experts worry the next pandemic will come at an even higher price than this one. And the nation needs to be ready.

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