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World Must Be Better Prepared For Potential Pandemics

“In China an influenza virus never before seen in people had, as The Economist went to press, infected at least 82 and killed 17. Meanwhile a new type of coronavirus, the family that brought severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), is festering in the Middle East,” an editorial in the magazine states. “The risk of such an outbreak turning into a pandemic is low, but the danger, if it does, is huge,” the editorial continues, adding, “Fortunately, the world is better prepared for an outbreak than ever before,” as “[r]esearchers have a better understanding of influenza and other risky pathogens”; [r]apid amplification of DNA segments helps scientists identify viruses quickly”; “[f]ull genomic sequencing allows them to explore worrying strains”; and “[m]athematical models predict where a new disease might emerge and how it might spread.”

“Yet all this may not be enough,” the magazine writes, adding, “No one has yet managed to predict an influenza outbreak. H1N1 exposed many problems, from the slow deployment of vaccines to simple breakdowns in communication.” The editorial continues, “Reducing that risk means, among other things, more government spending — an unwelcome prescription at a time of austerity, but a necessary one, for protection against pandemics is a valuable public good.” The magazine states, “First, governments and companies should continue to expand the availability of vaccines”; “[s]econd, governments should encourage more basic research on dangerous pathogens”; and “[t]hird, patent laws for viruses need reform.” The Economist concludes, “Faced with a distant but deadly threat, the world is not doing badly. But it needs to be better prepared still, because viruses move a lot faster than governments do” (4/20).