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The G20's Pandemic Wake-Up Call

G20 leaders must recognize that pandemics are a national and global security threat, and expend some political capital to shift the international health-security machinery from its current equilibrium. Their forthcoming summit in Rome is the right moment to establish a new vision of global public health.

WASHINGTON, DC – Epidemiologists tell us that COVID-19 was not a “black swan.” In our lifetime, there will be pandemics that are equally if not more severe. And when the next one comes, China, Singapore, and maybe Vietnam will be better prepared because they have learned from this terrible experience. Pretty much everyone else, including most of the G20, will be just as vulnerable as they were when COVID-19 hit.

But how can that be? After all, isn’t the world still battling the worst pandemic in a century, which has now killed almost five million people and forced governments to spend $17 trillion (and counting) to mitigate the economic damage? And haven’t world leaders commissioned top experts to figure out what went so wrong and how we can do better?

The expert panels have now reported back, and they all say more or less the same things. The world does not spend enough on monitoring infectious-disease outbreaks, despite their potential to become pandemics. We lack strategic reserves of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical oxygen, or spare vaccine production capacity that could quickly be ramped up. And the international agencies charged with global health security lack clear mandates and sufficient funding, and are not adequately accountable. Simply put, no one is in charge of the pandemic response and so no one is responsible for it.