Covid infections and hospitalisations in the UK are currently soaring with a resurgence. Infection rates have risen more than 30% in the week ending 24 June 2022, to 2.3 million people, Covid hospital admissions have also climbed steeply, all largely down to the highly transmissible Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been calls for the world to be better prepared for the next, which the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) states will be within six decades.
The last major “pandemic” was the Spanish Flu which killed over 50 million people, over 101 years ago. Covid-19 has taken more than 5 million lives (to date), had huge economic and social costs as well as highlight limitations and the need for a more ambitious approach to “pandemic preparedness”.
What is “pandemic preparedness”? Global health experts believe these five factors contribute to better pandemic preparedness:
1. It requires a strong and resilient health system, in particular primary care, to facilitate detection of disease outbreaks, provide essential care, and support deployment of vaccines and other medical countermeasures.
2. It requires surveillance systems and laboratory capacity to detect both human and zoonotic disease outbreaks.
3. Mechanisms are needed for coordination across sectors for prevention and preparedness.
4. Preparedness requires legal frameworks and regulatory instruments to support both outbreak prevention and the deployment of countermeasures.
5. There is a need for well-functioning supply-chains as well as adequate stockpiles of essential goods and equipment.
Covid-19 has also shown that the right decisions at the right time can make a significant difference.
For example, Taiwan was facing serious exposure risk to Covid-19 by receiving dozens of flights from Wuhan each week. However, learning from the 2002/3 Sars epidemic the country rapidly introduced health screening for arriving passengers, stronger border controls, effective track and trace as well as citizen mask-wearing and clear instructions / messages to its people.
Taiwan lost fewer than 900 of its 22 million population, which is why there are widespread calls for better “pandemic preparedness” to foresee, prevent and effectively contain to avoid deaths as well as social and economic disruption in the future.
Can we learn from the pandemic, are we prepared for the next crisis? Yes, if we learn its lessons, we will be better prepared next time, because there will be a next time.