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The next pandemic will come — here’s how to prepare for it

15 2 0

NEW YORK – As a new coronavirus spreads within China and to other countries, I’m reminded of my time in Hong Kong during the SARS outbreak of 2003.

Back then, I spent an otherwise beautiful spring wearing masks in public but mostly working from home, as I reported on the disease and the struggle to contain it.

Every day at the same time I checked an official Hong Kong website, which I trusted completely, to see that day’s new cases. I remember my relief as the number finally trended down. When it was over, it felt as though SARS had been just a shot across the world’s bow.

For one thing is certain: The next pandemic will come, and it may resemble the Spanish flu of 1918, which infected half a billion people. The questions are when, where and how, and whether we’ll be ready collectively. I say “collectively” because a pandemic, like climate change, doesn’t respect passports or borders. We don’t quarantine, cure or save “America First,” or “China First” or anybody first; we either put humanity first or we all lose.

There are other links between climate change and pandemics (and, to be clear, the current outbreak is still far from being one). The main connection is that global warming actually creates new disease vectors. As the permafrost thaws in places like Siberia, viruses that have been frozen for millenniums, and against which animals and humans no longer have any resistance, will resurface.


© The Japan Times