The coronavirus pandemic has ensured that 2020 will be remembered as the year the world got caught short. With 125 million confirmed cases and over 2.75 million deaths at the time of writing, this novel coronavirus has quite literally brought the world to its knees. And with the virus measuring at around 30 microns in length, that’s quite the impact.
It’s been very clear that the world was massively unprepared for a pandemic. The countries that were arguably better prepared include several nations in South East Asia, where there is ‘institutional memory’ of the SARS outbreak earlier on this century, and also a recent reminder of ‘what can happen’ with the more recent arrival of MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, which for example has caused outbreaks in South Korea). Bird flu and other novel strains of influenza often circulate across Asia.
A continuous awareness that an infectious disease threat could be unleashed at any point has made these countries more inclined to have infrastructure in place that can quickly assess and minimise the problems posed by the virus. The rapid testing introduced by South Korea enabled new outbreaks to be addressed fast, and many countries such as China introduced strong border controls, with quarantines mandatory when entering the country.
If we contrast that with the arguably half-hearted approach of many European countries and the USA, we can see the inevitable differences in the overall burden of disease – regardless of whether we look at numbers of cases, hospitalisations, or deaths.
In the UK, there were attempts to learn lessons from the 2009 swine flu pandemic, with a 2016 activity called Exercise Cygnus that attempted to replicate different scenarios that decision-makers might have to consider during a public health emergency. The UK government were reticent at releasing the documentation related to Exercise Cygnus until various newspapers put in Freedom of Information requests. When the papers were released, there were a few interesting findings that included a lack of political appetite and reluctance to make major decisions in a timely manner.
If we take only one lesson from 2020, it’s that pandemic preparedness is massively important. Billions of dollars of initial investment may sound a lot, but it could well save a public health emergency that globally costs trillions of dollars.
That’s one reason why the Clinical Informatics Research Unit at the University has teamed up with business colleagues to launch the company Pandemic Planning Services (PPS). PPS aims to help organisations conform to the latest government guidelines on coronavirus, and to train and certify their workforce in current best practice in protection against viruses. This is a transparent process designed to provide reassurance to customers and stakeholders that their safety and protection is of prime importance. Find out about the resources, guidelines, and more that PPS offers on their website.
The University continues to contribute in the fight against coronavirus. Find out about some of the latest developments on our news page, and check out our other article, ‘The working-from-home revolution’, for a different kind of University research.