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What We Must Learn from COVID-19

With the pandemic now seemingly in the rearview mirror, policymakers must start preparing for the next public-health crisis. Today’s political leaders have a historic opportunity to foster a more inclusive global order, and they have a responsibility to ensure greater equity and effectiveness in pandemic prevention and response.

GENEVA – Hardship, crisis, misfortune, and mistakes often provide the most valuable insights. The COVID-19 pandemic is a case in point. For all the suffering that the virus has caused, it has also highlighted the steps that countries must take, both collectively and individually, to prepare for future global public-health emergencies. Now, with the pandemic seemingly in the rearview mirror, the question is whether political leaders around the world will take its lessons to heart.

This is not a trivial question. Over the past few decades, disease outbreaks have triggered a recurring cycle of panic and neglect among policymakers. But in light of the human, economic, and social devastation wrought by COVID-19, we can and must break this pattern.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that factors such as climate change, human encroachment on wildlife habitats, population growth, urbanization, and low-cost travel make it increasingly likely that we will face more devastating pandemics in the not-too-distant future. A 2021 study found that the “yearly probability” of extreme epidemics could “increase up to threefold” in the coming decades. It would be extremely reckless not to take decisive action now to mitigate this looming threat.

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