LONDON: Another disease capable of causing a global pandemic could be around the corner, a leading British scientist has warned.
Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said that researchers have been discovering new viruses capable of infecting humans at a steady rate for the past 50 years.
Speaking in an independent capacity, he said: “That’s going to keep happening.”
He added: “It’s picking up the ones that are actually going to cause the next pandemic out of this constant trickle of new viruses that are coming along.
“Occasionally one comes along, so spotting the rare event is always hard.”
Referring to “Disease X,” the term used by the World Health Organization to describe a previously unknown virus that quickly spreads around the world, Woolhouse said: “The precise mechanism by which a virus comes out is always extremely unpredictable. You can never predict precise events, so you have to do it on sort of statistical grounds of probability.”
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was a “Disease X,” only being added to the UN agency’s priority list of diseases in 2018.
Woolhouse said that Britain had “pretty mature and sophisticated plans” to react to the next influenza pandemic. However, these were inadequate for the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We did a lot of work, we did our revision, we went into the exam room, and they gave us the wrong paper.
“We were all prepared to meet the pandemic flu, and we got something else. And, for me, the big lesson — I have tried to push this for many years now — is to avoid being overly prescriptive about what you think is going to come next.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has now killed more than 100,000 people in Britain.
Woolhouse added: “We absolutely do need to be more aware of these events, but I think this game of trying to guess what it will be is very risky.”
Regarding predictions of the next pandemic, he said: “You could use the phrase ‘it is a matter of when, not if.’ We can’t put a handle on when, of course.”