Skip to main content


Preparing for the next pandemic

Lerexis/Getty Images

You often hear that Covid-19 is a “once-in-a-century event”, says Jack Blanchard in the Westminster Insider podcast. But it’s actually the seventh global infection crisis of the 21st century –Sars, Mers, avian and swine flu, ebola and zika all came first. And the bad news is that a “once-in-a-century event” is a misnomer: there’s a 2.5%-3% likelihood of a pandemic occurring in any given year, which means a 22%-28% chance every decade. “Eek.”

At least next time we’ll know what to do. One example to follow is Taiwan, a densely populated island of 24 million people, 100 miles off the coast of China. It should have been “right in the firing line” – but, thanks to tough quarantines, border screening and mass mask production, it has seen only 848 Covid-related deaths and never needed a full lockdown.

High-tech PPE, including the powered air-purifying respirators that are already on the market, should make a huge difference. So too will genomic sequencing technology. Professor Kevin Esvelt, a biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says we need to sequence swabs for DNA and RNA strands at hospital and waste-water plants to spot the next deadly virus hatching in the population before it explodes. Thanks to Sars and Mers, we had a head-start on making coronavirus vaccines, he adds: “In a very real sense, we got lucky.”

Listen to the podcast here.

Get The Knowledge in your inbox

We cut through the noise to give you the news you need – in just five minutes a day. Sign up for the newsletter here.