Pandemic preparedness a national security issue

Pandemic preparedness a national security issue

This image obtained March 16, 2020 courtesy of The National Institutes of Health/NIAD-RML shows a 3D print of a spike protein of coronavirus. (National Institutes of Health/AFP)
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In an instant, out of the blue, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has arrived and has brought 21st century civilization — with all of its might — to its knees, leaving its leaders and citizens wounded, paralyzed and with no real direction, concrete answers or solutions. Total shutdowns and curfews have been imposed and states of emergency introduced, while astronomical budgets (that have been saved by countries for decades) have been assigned to support the efforts to cope with the pandemic, enable the economy to survive, and the people to be able to finance themselves.

Lessons from previous pandemics, warnings by institutions engaged in pandemic issues, as well as books and the calls of organizations and experts about the possibility of future pandemics were systematically ignored in recent years and most countries were not at all prepared to deal with such a crisis. Had the leaders handled this risk in a different way, many lives and budgets could have been saved. It is now too late, as the virus has hit societies and there is a real need to react.

However, even if the actions that have now been taken around the world do prevail, it is very clear to everyone that a second virus or similar pandemic could come at any time — but then governments would have empty budgets and would not be able to properly defend their societies. Governments around the world usually spend heavily on security issues, ranging from weapons to human resources, in order to be prepared for violent conflicts and terrorism. The coronavirus has clearly proven that pandemics need to be immediately included under security measures, and in a very high priority position. Every violent organization is now aware of the fragile situation in terms of handling issues such as pandemics. It would be quite easy for terrorist organizations, for example, to get their hands on the next virus and cause a similar pandemic. Whether from wild animals or from another source, it is therefore extremely important for the international community to get accurate information about the source of the virus and how accessible such viruses are to violent organizations.

Every violent organization is now aware of the fragile situation in terms of handling issues such as pandemics

Mark C. Donfried

From what we have learned from the initial testimonials, patients inform us that the coronavirus is stronger than a regular flu and the recovery time is longer. This makes the observer suspicious about whether or not it is the result of a normal evolutionary mutation. The strength of the virus, which is a dream of every violent organization, shows an evolutionary turn that raises suspicion. Just to compare, the entire world was amazed to see how the famous runner Usain Bolt was able to improve the world record in the 100 meters sprint from 9.69 seconds to 9.58 in his best race. Once we compare the virus’s evolution to human evolution, one can see how suspicious the qualities of this “supervirus” look, as it is equal to the example that suddenly, in one day, a new sprinter improves the 100 meters record from 9.58 seconds to only 6 seconds. Such an improvement does not happen in such a short time, just as this so-called evolutionary mutation of a virus wouldn’t happen by itself. This mutation can of course happen in nature, but the importance of an unbiased, inclusive international investigation team examining this is of the highest importance.

If the results of this investigation show human intervention, the world will enter a new order, which will change the life of every human being. Even if it is not possible to determine that there was no human intervention, this crisis will lead the world to immediate changing its priorities, putting pandemics and similar instances at the top of their agenda in order to better prepare for the next crisis and avoid any security failures.

In order to be sure that violent organizations are not able to get involved in the spread of viruses, there needs to be a serious plan regarding how to prepare for — or even prevent — the next crisis. It is, therefore, important that we get answers to the many questions we have, such as how to secure the world in this new reality.

We may never know the true origin of the coronavirus, but one thing is certain: The world that will come after this crisis will be completely different to the one we knew before.

• Mark C. Donfried is director general at the Berlin-based Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view