Covid-19 is very much a disease of the moment, emerging in a crowded city in a newly prosperous and connected China before spreading to the rest of the world in a matter of months. But our response to it has been both hyper-modern – and practically medieval. Scientists around the world are using cutting-edge tools to rapidly sequence the genome of the coronavirus, pass along information about its virulence, and collaborate on possible countermeasures and vaccines, all far quicker than could have been done before.
But when the virus arrived among us, our only effective response was to shut down society and turn off the assembly line of global capitalism. Minus the text alerts, the videoconferencing and the Netflix, what we were doing wasn’t that different from what our ancestors might have tried to halt an outbreak of the plague. The result has been chemotherapy for the global economy.
Just as the eventual emergence of something like Covid-19 was easily predictable, so too are the actions we should have taken to shore ourselves against its coming.
We need to strengthen the antennae of global health, to ensure that when the next virus emerges — which it will — we’ll catch it faster, perhaps even snuff it out. The budget of the WHO, the agency ostensibly charged with safeguarding the health of the world’s 7.8 billion citizens, is somehow no more than that of a large urban hospital in the U.S.
We need to double down on the development of vaccines, which will include assuring large pharma companies that their investments won’t be wasted should an outbreak end before one is ready.