Jeremy Farrar: ‘Viruses know no borders. Until every country is protected, we are all at risk’ | Life and style


Make no mistake, we are still only at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. My hope is that the world is now finally waking up, and will do all that is needed to bring the crisis to an end, and be better prepared for inevitable future outbreaks.

For many years, scientists have warned of the likelihood of a rapidly spreading new virus, crossing from animals to humans – and the urgent need for governments to prepare. Unfortunately, the world ignored these warnings. In a matter of months, this virus has disrupted every aspect of life, in every part of the world. The IMF predicts this will cost the global economy $12tn. Complacency is no longer an option.

The only way out of this pandemic is by working together to ensure that all countries have stronger, more resilient public health systems and access to vaccines, treatments and tests. The cost of developing these vital tools has been set at $31.3bn, a price that could be the best investment the world has ever made.

This crisis will show that there is no future in narrow nationalism. Viruses know no borders or allegiances. Attempts by national governments to buy up stocks of treatments and vaccines aren’t just wrong on moral and ethical grounds; until every country is protected, we are all at risk.

Every year, governments spend hundreds of billions on defence and economic stimuli. Over the next few years we must see greater investment in public services to protect citizens and economies from future outbreaks. To work, this will have to be a global effort, requiring trusted and effective partnerships. We’ll need to find better ways of detecting new diseases and emerging outbreaks. Infrastructure and funding need to be ready so that scientists can rapidly deepen our understanding and develop effective tools. And we’ll need ways to manufacture and deliver these at scale and at speed, to everyone who needs them – regardless of ability to pay.

Jeremy Farrar is a medical researcher and director of the Wellcome Trust

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