.
I

n October of 2019, a simulation was assembled to demonstrate how woefully unprepared the world is for a pandemic—an outbreak eerily similar to that of COVID-19. Event 201 (which was hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the World Economic Forum, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) assembled a “Pandemic Emergency Board” of 15 leaders from government, civil society, public health, and business to provide guidance and recommendations in the midst of a fictional quickly evolving crisis involving the rapid transmission of a highly contagious and lethal coronavirus referred to as CAPS.

The participants were asked to address four primary challenges over the course of the simulation: medical countermeasures, trade and travel, finance and economic fallout, and communications. Here, we’ve outlined the challenges they faced in these four areas in addition to their recommendations.

COVID-19, like climate change, is exposing the full cost of our collective unwillingness to make difficult, short-term sacrifices, for the sake of securing a safer, healthier future.

COVID-19, like climate change, is exposing the full cost of our collective unwillingness to make difficult, short-term sacrifices, for the sake of securing a safer, healthier future.

1. Medical Countermeasures

The panel faced a severely strained healthcare system. There was a shortage of medicines, masks, and ventilators. Global and national regulations set the development and distribution of a vaccine out over a year—making it unable to address the immediate situation on the ground. The lack of proper equipment coupled with distrusted and under resourced governments led to cases being severely underreported.

Beyond the practices vital to slowing transmission—speedy distribution of accurate information, hand-washing, social distancing, and avoiding large crowds—the panel soon found itself needing to figure out how to develop and deploy certain medicines and medical equipment when it became evident that quarantines and tracking cases individually would be insufficient. To oversee distribution then, the panel recommended the World Health Organization (WHO) assume the primary role as a central conduit between governments and the private sector. WHO would decide how much of which resources should go where and when to combat stockpiling by individual nations. Recognizing that having a central authority in this position could breed a lot of distrust, the panel also advocated that WHO should hold daily briefings and commit to certain reforms to ensure maximum transparency. They recommended a global stockpile needs to be developed well in advance of an outbreak. And moreover, relaxing as many non-essential regulations around developing vaccines would be necessary to combat the pandemic’s spread as quickly as possible.

2. Trade and Travel

Given concerns around travel and disruptions to supply chains and trade networks, the panel needed to balance the economic benefits of flowing goods, against the health consequences of the virus spreading.

The board urged against measures that would too severely contract national economies and suggested that travel—but more importantly, trade—shouldn’t be overly restricted, for it could further damage the countries struggling the most against the outbreak. Maintaining global trade routes amidst an outbreak is vital to supporting national economies and distributing vital, lifesaving commodities; suggesting that certain routes should be subsidized by governments in order to safeguard against their potential collapse. That said, travel advisories and limited restrictions would likely be necessary. But to protect those who do travel information should be widely distributed and accessible for anyone planning to travel. Furthermore, the WHO and national governments should make prospective investments in ensuring transportation workers have a reserve of equipment that can protect against the virus.

3. Finance and Economy

At this point in the simulation, projections three months out suggest 30 million cases and three million deaths in the CAPS pandemic; financial markets the world over are in a free fall. At the one-year mark of the outbreak, global GDP is down 11%—by year two, 25%. This would be an economic collapse unseen since the Great Depression and given the loss of customers and workers, it could take even longer to climb out of.

Although the panel recognizes that there are numerous economic crises underway—especially the downstream impacts on national governments and industries that are “too big to fail”—money needs to go, first and foremost, toward stopping the pandemic itself.  The economy will never be able to recover until that happens. International organizations like the World Bank, in addition to national governments, need to be willing to borrow significantly in the short term to mitigate worse effects down the road. Money needs to be moved into spaces that are yielding far higher returns. Once financial stimulus has been injected into the economy, investments need to be made in areas that generate value in terms of ending the pandemic and securing people’s livelihoods.

4. Communication

With now 4.2 Million cases, social and political unrest is beginning to pose significant challenges on the ability to communicate accurate information about the crisis. Social media companies are struggling to quell the spread of disinformation—especially from certain political leaders all over the world. Conspiracy theories are developing about healthcare workers and minority populations, leaving them vulnerable to acts of violence. Trust in governments, pharmaceutical companies, and international organizations are beginning to fall precipitously.

Asked about how to ensure reliable information is getting to the public, and false information stamped out, the board argues that the institutions which continue to see high levels of trust need to step up and take a leading role in disseminating accurate information and promoting best practices. These include people’s employers, local community institutions, faith-based organizations, and civil society actors that people frequently interact with. Social media companies need to recognize that they are not neutral platforms, but broadcasters, and thus need to partner with public health officials and experts to be sure the information being disseminated on their platforms are accurate. If they don’t, governments will then need to codify regulations that make certain that they are. However, governments shouldn’t overreach to the point of shutting down social media platforms all together as that would likely heighten tensions and concerns about their trustworthiness. The WHO and reputable public health agencies should be holding daily briefings to provide accurate, up-to-date information.

What We Should Have Learned

In addition to their obvious health risks and economic threats, pandemics reveal society’s worst, near-sighted tendencies. For years, the threat of a pandemic—despite all evidence—has been treated as some distant, abstract, or theoretical exercise. Leaving governments to cut funding to their public health systems and companies to maximize their short-term profits instead of investing in their workers, and preparing for a sharp economic downturn of the sort we are seeing now. COVID-19, like climate change, is exposing the full cost of our collective unwillingness to make difficult, short-term sacrifices, for the sake of securing a safer, healthier future.

The Event 201 board recognized that while these exercises are crucial to preparedness, they only matter if their advice is taken seriously. But action is what counts; and the actions the board recommended take years of ongoing planning and spending, which may be immediately unpopular. Instead, efforts to prepare for a pandemic of the kind we’re now experiencing have routinely been put on the back burner. Time that could have been spent ensuring a global stockpile of N-95 masks, or establishing a sound testing regime, was wasted in favor of pursuits to drive evening cable news cycles, polls, and quarterly profits.

Revisiting Event 201 in light of COVID-19 is unnerving given how many of the board’s predictions are proving accurate in every category they considered. Due to a lack of preparedness at the governmental level, citizens everywhere are now being told to isolate themselves from their own communities and loved ones, small businesses are primed to close, and workers are being laid off. And while individual sacrifices are indeed required, and do help to slow transmission, it’s evident that—by avoiding the hard work necessary to prepare well in advance for an outbreak like this—governments everywhere have shifted much of the burden of action onto people, who, because of their leaders’ obvious unreadiness, are panicking.

About
Melissa Metos
:
Melissa is a DC Correspondent and a senior at the University of Utah pursuing her BA in Sociology with a minor in Writing and Rhetoric.
About
Kasen Scharmann
:
Kasen Scharmann is a writer studying Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Utah. Currently based in Washington, DC he is a Correspondent for Diplomatic Courier. His work explores the dominant currents in international relations through the lenses of economics, power, and identity.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

a global affairs media network

www.diplomaticourier.com

A Global Health Crisis in Four Parts

April 24, 2020

What We Should Have Learned from Event 201.

I

n October of 2019, a simulation was assembled to demonstrate how woefully unprepared the world is for a pandemic—an outbreak eerily similar to that of COVID-19. Event 201 (which was hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the World Economic Forum, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) assembled a “Pandemic Emergency Board” of 15 leaders from government, civil society, public health, and business to provide guidance and recommendations in the midst of a fictional quickly evolving crisis involving the rapid transmission of a highly contagious and lethal coronavirus referred to as CAPS.

The participants were asked to address four primary challenges over the course of the simulation: medical countermeasures, trade and travel, finance and economic fallout, and communications. Here, we’ve outlined the challenges they faced in these four areas in addition to their recommendations.

COVID-19, like climate change, is exposing the full cost of our collective unwillingness to make difficult, short-term sacrifices, for the sake of securing a safer, healthier future.

COVID-19, like climate change, is exposing the full cost of our collective unwillingness to make difficult, short-term sacrifices, for the sake of securing a safer, healthier future.

1. Medical Countermeasures

The panel faced a severely strained healthcare system. There was a shortage of medicines, masks, and ventilators. Global and national regulations set the development and distribution of a vaccine out over a year—making it unable to address the immediate situation on the ground. The lack of proper equipment coupled with distrusted and under resourced governments led to cases being severely underreported.

Beyond the practices vital to slowing transmission—speedy distribution of accurate information, hand-washing, social distancing, and avoiding large crowds—the panel soon found itself needing to figure out how to develop and deploy certain medicines and medical equipment when it became evident that quarantines and tracking cases individually would be insufficient. To oversee distribution then, the panel recommended the World Health Organization (WHO) assume the primary role as a central conduit between governments and the private sector. WHO would decide how much of which resources should go where and when to combat stockpiling by individual nations. Recognizing that having a central authority in this position could breed a lot of distrust, the panel also advocated that WHO should hold daily briefings and commit to certain reforms to ensure maximum transparency. They recommended a global stockpile needs to be developed well in advance of an outbreak. And moreover, relaxing as many non-essential regulations around developing vaccines would be necessary to combat the pandemic’s spread as quickly as possible.

2. Trade and Travel

Given concerns around travel and disruptions to supply chains and trade networks, the panel needed to balance the economic benefits of flowing goods, against the health consequences of the virus spreading.

The board urged against measures that would too severely contract national economies and suggested that travel—but more importantly, trade—shouldn’t be overly restricted, for it could further damage the countries struggling the most against the outbreak. Maintaining global trade routes amidst an outbreak is vital to supporting national economies and distributing vital, lifesaving commodities; suggesting that certain routes should be subsidized by governments in order to safeguard against their potential collapse. That said, travel advisories and limited restrictions would likely be necessary. But to protect those who do travel information should be widely distributed and accessible for anyone planning to travel. Furthermore, the WHO and national governments should make prospective investments in ensuring transportation workers have a reserve of equipment that can protect against the virus.

3. Finance and Economy

At this point in the simulation, projections three months out suggest 30 million cases and three million deaths in the CAPS pandemic; financial markets the world over are in a free fall. At the one-year mark of the outbreak, global GDP is down 11%—by year two, 25%. This would be an economic collapse unseen since the Great Depression and given the loss of customers and workers, it could take even longer to climb out of.

Although the panel recognizes that there are numerous economic crises underway—especially the downstream impacts on national governments and industries that are “too big to fail”—money needs to go, first and foremost, toward stopping the pandemic itself.  The economy will never be able to recover until that happens. International organizations like the World Bank, in addition to national governments, need to be willing to borrow significantly in the short term to mitigate worse effects down the road. Money needs to be moved into spaces that are yielding far higher returns. Once financial stimulus has been injected into the economy, investments need to be made in areas that generate value in terms of ending the pandemic and securing people’s livelihoods.

4. Communication

With now 4.2 Million cases, social and political unrest is beginning to pose significant challenges on the ability to communicate accurate information about the crisis. Social media companies are struggling to quell the spread of disinformation—especially from certain political leaders all over the world. Conspiracy theories are developing about healthcare workers and minority populations, leaving them vulnerable to acts of violence. Trust in governments, pharmaceutical companies, and international organizations are beginning to fall precipitously.

Asked about how to ensure reliable information is getting to the public, and false information stamped out, the board argues that the institutions which continue to see high levels of trust need to step up and take a leading role in disseminating accurate information and promoting best practices. These include people’s employers, local community institutions, faith-based organizations, and civil society actors that people frequently interact with. Social media companies need to recognize that they are not neutral platforms, but broadcasters, and thus need to partner with public health officials and experts to be sure the information being disseminated on their platforms are accurate. If they don’t, governments will then need to codify regulations that make certain that they are. However, governments shouldn’t overreach to the point of shutting down social media platforms all together as that would likely heighten tensions and concerns about their trustworthiness. The WHO and reputable public health agencies should be holding daily briefings to provide accurate, up-to-date information.

What We Should Have Learned

In addition to their obvious health risks and economic threats, pandemics reveal society’s worst, near-sighted tendencies. For years, the threat of a pandemic—despite all evidence—has been treated as some distant, abstract, or theoretical exercise. Leaving governments to cut funding to their public health systems and companies to maximize their short-term profits instead of investing in their workers, and preparing for a sharp economic downturn of the sort we are seeing now. COVID-19, like climate change, is exposing the full cost of our collective unwillingness to make difficult, short-term sacrifices, for the sake of securing a safer, healthier future.

The Event 201 board recognized that while these exercises are crucial to preparedness, they only matter if their advice is taken seriously. But action is what counts; and the actions the board recommended take years of ongoing planning and spending, which may be immediately unpopular. Instead, efforts to prepare for a pandemic of the kind we’re now experiencing have routinely been put on the back burner. Time that could have been spent ensuring a global stockpile of N-95 masks, or establishing a sound testing regime, was wasted in favor of pursuits to drive evening cable news cycles, polls, and quarterly profits.

Revisiting Event 201 in light of COVID-19 is unnerving given how many of the board’s predictions are proving accurate in every category they considered. Due to a lack of preparedness at the governmental level, citizens everywhere are now being told to isolate themselves from their own communities and loved ones, small businesses are primed to close, and workers are being laid off. And while individual sacrifices are indeed required, and do help to slow transmission, it’s evident that—by avoiding the hard work necessary to prepare well in advance for an outbreak like this—governments everywhere have shifted much of the burden of action onto people, who, because of their leaders’ obvious unreadiness, are panicking.

About
Melissa Metos
:
Melissa is a DC Correspondent and a senior at the University of Utah pursuing her BA in Sociology with a minor in Writing and Rhetoric.
About
Kasen Scharmann
:
Kasen Scharmann is a writer studying Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Utah. Currently based in Washington, DC he is a Correspondent for Diplomatic Courier. His work explores the dominant currents in international relations through the lenses of economics, power, and identity.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.