As soon as news of a new coronavirus started to emerge from Wuhan and China first reported a new type of pneumonia of unknown origin to the WHO on December 31st, 2019, countries across East Asia started to prepare for a worst-case scenario. Whilst East Asia is not out of the woods yet, it is necessary to understand how these countries have applied the lessons from the past during the current wave of COVID-19. There are also areas of institutional capacity that can be easily replicated if there is political will.Dr Ramon Pacheco Pardo, Reader in International Relations
17 May 2020
Prepare for the next pandemic now, Government urged
A new report has examined what lessons can be learnt from East Asia to prevent and manage the next pandemic.
A new report by researchers from the Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy at King’s College London has examined what lessons can be learnt from East Asia to prevent and manage the next pandemic. The report makes a series of urgent recommendations for the Government so the UK can be better prepared for a future outbreak, which they say is only a matter of time.
As of early May, the number of reported deaths from COVID-19 across East Asia is lower than in other regions – most notably Western Europe and the United States. The report analyses how six countries and territories in East Asia built and implemented a set of institutional capacities in response to lessons learnt from the SARS, H1N1 and/or MERS pandemics. These outbreaks exposed the inadequacies of existing institutional structures to prevent and manage diseases.
East Asian countries now have over a decade of institutional capacity-building behind them, including developing long-term public health infrastructures; updating legal frameworks to allow authorities to act quickly; and crucially, maintaining memory of those lessons to implement them in future pandemics. As a result they have been better equipped to respond to COVID19 and have not seen their health care systems overwhelmed, nor were they forced to implement a full lockdown.
The report also highlights that tracing has been crucial for countries across East Asia to avoid damaging lockdowns and avoid having to close down their economies. This has involved a mixture of technology and human resources. East Asian countries have developed apps and smartphone tracking to help identify who has been in contact with infected people. Specially hired and trained professionals or police people have then gotten in contact to invite potential coronavirus carriers to take a test.
To ensure that the UK is better able to deal with the next pandemic, the researchers have urged the Government to take the following steps:
- Preparation: Governments need to start preparing for the next pandemic as soon as the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is over or becomes manageable. A reason for this is that the speed and effectiveness of the response in the first days and weeks of a pandemic are critical.
- Develop a playbook including the lessons learnt that can be updated with new information, coming from both their country and from other countries, and that can be applied when a potential new pandemic breaks out.
- Legal Framework: Governments need to establish a robust legal framework that can be activated in case of (potential) pandemic. This legal framework should establish a clear, centralised command structure.
- Invest in Healthcare: The healthcare and public health system needs to be well resourced: Governments need to build ex ante the necessary resources to a) implement public health measures to prevent the spread of an epidemic and identify and isolate cases effectively, and b) improve the clinical response and prevent that the healthcare system becomes overwhelmed during a pandemic.
- Technology: Governments need to develop the necessary technologies to identify and trace infected cases, enforce quarantines, disseminate information. Two types of technology are critical: a) apps and websites for tracing, enforcing and information; and b) centralised, real-time databases of insurance claims or patient records that enable clinicians and public health agencies to identify cases and trace related contacts and recognise patients at highest risk.