What marks COVID-19 out from other threats to humanity is its capacity for destruction. In the space of months, it has killed 70,000 people, forced one third of the world into lockdown, overwhelmed hospitals and grounded whole economies. The devastating effects of the latter will become all too clear in the coming months.
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Understandably, the current priority is to find a way to kill the virus, or at least weaken it to the extent that its harm is negligible.
In this fight, there are different options available, some being more palatable than others.
Governments have so far opted to stem the spread of the virus by keeping people (using varying degrees of force) confined to their homes.
This is designed to reduce the spread of the virus while buying time to best allocate resources and race to find a vaccine.
A less appealing option is to let the virus simply burn through populations.
This is aimed at creating a herd immunity but the cost to lives could be grave and it is politically toxic.
While the world is clearly in the thick of it, weighing up the pros and cons, less attention has been devoted to answering an uncomfortable question: could we have prevented COVID-19, and, if so, can we prevent it happening again?
To explore this uncomfortable but necessary terrain, Express.co.uk spoke to Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London and the author of Disaster By Choice: How Our Actions Turn Natural Hazards into Catastrophes.
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According to Professor Kelman, the answer is a resounding yes: “COVID-19 could have been prevented by long-term healthier living and supporting health workers.”
He explained: “Destroying ecosystems alongside poor hygiene when dealing with animals means that microbes can jump species, infecting us.”
This is likely behind Ebola, HIV, and now COVID-19, he said.
So what can we do to prevent this disaster happening again?
“When a new microbe appears, we need to listen to the health professionals and already have in place robust international organisations which horizon-scan, monitor, and are ready to respond,” he advised.
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As Professor Kelman explains, this means investing steadily and over the long-term in healthcare, including international cooperation.
“All healthcare must be underpinned by people, training, and experience alongside needed the technology (including vaccines) and buildings,” he said.
What else does Professor Kelman propose?
“Continual investment in medical research, training, and infrastructure is essential over the long-term, while paying good salaries to doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers,” he said.
He concluded: “We cannot wait for a crisis, instead we must always be ready for possible disease threats.”
Coronavirus – what we know so far
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.
Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.
Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.
According to the World Health Organization, the best way to prevent and slow down transmission is to be well informed about the COVID-19 virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads.
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