Overview: Pandemics

Read Article | Watch Relevant Videos and Podcasts | Comments

Author: Dr. Ronald St. John

Throughout history there have been outbreaks of infectious diseases. The well-known plague epidemic (Black Death) was a devastating global epidemic of bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s, wiping out an estimated one-third of the population. Disease outbreaks, when large in scope, have been referred to as epidemics. More recently, epidemics that have involved or might involve the global population have been labelled as pandemics.

When does an epidemic become a pandemic? There is no single accepted definition of the term pandemic (ref: Journal of Infectious Diseases, Vol. 200:7, 1 October 2009). Some considerations for labelling an outbreak as a pandemic include outbreaks of diseases:

  • that extend over large geographic areas, e.g., influenza, HIV/AIDS
  • that have high attack rates and explosiveness, e.g., common-source acquisition and highly contagious diseases with short incubation periods
  • that affect populations with minimal population immunity
  • that involve a new or novel version of an infectious agent – the term pandemic has been used most commonly to describe diseases that are new, or at least associated with novel variants of existing organisms, e.g., influenza.
  • that are highly contagious. Many, if not most, infectious diseases considered to be pandemic by public health officials are contagious from person to person
  • that have severe health consequences. The term pandemic has been applied to severe or fatal diseases

For purposes of this paper, a pandemic is an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.(1)

Why are pandemics inevitable?

The worst kinds of pathogens — ones with the highest mortality rates and limited countermeasures — are increasing due to population increases, population density, more global travel, and changing migratory and environmental patterns that result in encroachment upon animal and other populations.

  • Population density – The world’s population is around 7,500,000,000 people.(2) Excluding Antarctica and considering only the Earth’s land area, population density is 55 people per km2 (over 142 per sq. mile). Around 55 percent of the world’s population is thought to be living in an urban area or city, with that figure set to rise to 68 percent over the coming decades, according to the “Population Division” report.(3)
  • Rapid Population Movement — The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects 7.2 billion passengers to travel in 2035, a near doubling of the 3.8 billion air travelers in 2016.(4)
  • War/Insurgency – Syria and polio; Yemen and cholera
  • Emergence of New/novel pathogen – mutation of known pathogen or exposure to novel pathogen, e.g., by human encroachment on deforested land
  • Cultural resistance – risks of transmission and poor disease outcomes may be amplified by unfavourable behaviours, with reluctance to adopt prevention and risk mitigation strategies.
  • Fear and resistance to intrusion of outsiders
  • Government cover-up; concern for economic impacts
  • The intensity and spread of infectious disease outbreaks are highly influenced by the social determinants of health. Poor housing, poverty, and lack of access to health care decrease resiliency to cope with communicable diseases, leading to more transmission and/or more morbidity and mortality.


Until some of the basic conditions that favour the expansion of an epidemic to a pandemic are addressed, future pandemics are inevitable. Early detection and coupled with efficient and effective management of a rapid response to contain a disease outbreak at the local level will hopefully minimize the health impact on the global population.

However, much more attention is warranted. Many pandemics are zoonoses — diseases that can be transmitted to humans from animals. Influenza, tuberculosis, bubonic plague, and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) are examples. In fact, today the most promising work on the spread of infectious diseases is being carried out by physicians specializing in epidemiology, veterinary and environmental medicine, working jointly as an inter-disciplinary approach called “One Health.” As wildlife habitats are destroyed to make room for human settlements, and as local climates change with global warming, there are new opportunities for zoonoses to spread. One Health researcher seek to identify these situations quickly, as they emerge worldwide.

In previous times, some virulent diseases had a self-limiting effect; infected people might die quickly -—before they had time to spread their pathogens widely. However, the ease of air travel now makes it possible for infected persons to spread a disease to other continents even before showing symptoms themselves. Thus, the risk of pandemics remains high, despite the spread of advanced medical technology.

Estimates about the probability of a virulent global pandemic are only guesses, but even the most ominous predictions cannot be dismissed. Bill Gates, who is allocating large funds to solving global health problems, sees pandemics as the greatest immediate threat to humanity. He warns that an influenza epidemic alone may kill over 30 million people in six months.(5) Another researcher, David Mannheim, predicts an even more dire possibility. Noting that it is more difficult than ever before to contain an epidemic through local quarantines, he argues that “the evolving nature of the risk means natural pandemics may pose a realistic threat to human civilization.(6).

References for this article can be seen at the Footnotes 3 page on this website (link will open in a new page).

Related Videos and Podcasts

46 Antibiotics and Politics
• Dr. Laura Kahn, physician and research professor, Princeton University
• Dr. Ronald St. John, Director, Public Health Ontario

37. The War in Yemen
• Qais Ghanem, Retired professor of medicine, Ottawa University
• Paul Maillet, retired Colonel, Canadian Forces, now peacebuilding worker.

27. Assessing Risk of Global Threats
• Mark Sedra, Adjunct Professor, Balsillie School

22. Famine
• Alex deWaal, Executive Director, World Peace Foundation

13. Yemen
• Yusur Al Bahrani, Journalist living in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada
• Ahmed Jehaf, Journalist living in Sana’a,

7. Pandemics and Climate Change
• Sweta Chakraborty, EcoHealth Alliance’s Young Professionals Council
• Dr. Ronald St. John, Former Director General of Canada’s first Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response in the Public Health Agency of Canada.
• Dr. Bryna Warshawsky, Public Health Ontario

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

COVID-19: an intersectional perspective

Over the past 2 weeks, I have collected a number of COVID-19 related articles. Many of these articles offer intersectional perspectives on COVID-19. I am sharing these here as these may be of interest to Project Save the World readers. I am additionally cross-posting this to the Overview: Enabling Measures section.

Read more

These articles are arranged alphabetical by author surname.

Title: Pyongyang Might Be Ready for a Helping Hand From Seoul
Author: Abrahamian, Andray
Publication(s): Foreign Policy
Date: 24 April 2020
Link: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/04/24/kim-virus-korea-pyongyang-might-ready-helping-hand-seoul/
Notes: This article discusses the impacts of COVID-19 on the Korean peninsula and inter-Korean relations. The notion of donor fatigue and sanctions – due to the ongoing nuclear issue – straining potential aid for COVID-19 victims in North Korea is an alarming situation to learn about. The hypothetical possibility of joint, inter-Korean work to produce products needed globally and regionally – such as masks -or joint scientific research on the virus is an interesting venue to consider. The author additionally does acknowledge it may be difficult to gain accurate statistics around the full impact of COVID-19 in North Korea.

Title: Coronavirus could kill 190,000 in Africa, WHO warns: Live updates
Author: Rasheed, Zaheena; Gadzo; Mersiha; and Stepansky, Joseph
Publication(s): Al Jazeera
Date: 8 May 2020
Link: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/brazil-minister-floats-idea-coronavirus-lockdown-live-updates-200506233629569.html
Notes: This article provides daily updates on the global COVID-19 scenario and additionally provides an estimate for the impact of COVID-19 in Africa.

Title: ‘We’re facing a double pandemic’: UN body warns of ‘mega-famines’
Author: Al Jazeera
Publication(s): Al Jazeera
Date: 7 May 2020
Link: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/facing-double-pandemic-body-warns-mega-famines-200507174314330.html
Notes: This article discusses a statement by the United Nations’ World Food Programme on double-pandemics – which pertain to the notion of mega-famines originating as a result of COVID-19.

Title: Coronavirus: Asian Vets Head To Australia To Prepare For Next Pandemic
Author: Bloomberg
Publication(s): South China Morning Post: The Coronavirus Pandemic
Date: 6 May 2020
Link: https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/australasia/article/3083070/coronavirus-southeast-asia-pacific-veterinary-detective-squad
Notes: This timely article by Bloomberg and the South China Morning Post discusses a new proactive approach to monitoring pandemics in the Indo-Pacific region. This approach will also see the training of medical professionals (veterinarian surgeons) in the Pacific and Southeast Asia – including how to detect infectious diseases before they jump to humans, how to collect samples, and how to safely care for sick animals. This additionally has connections to Project Save the World’s Plank 15 and 16 and the notion of strengthening inter-regional and international disease management and surveillance systems, as well as integrating environmental, human, and veterinarian health models (via One Health).

Title: Pandemic Modelling Will Play an Essential Role in Rebooting the Economy
Author: Ciuriak, Dan and Fay, Robert
Publication(s): Centre for International Governance Innovation
Date: 29 April 2020
Link: https://www.cigionline.org/articles/pandemic-modelling-will-play-essential-role-rebooting-economy
Notes: This article discusses the interconnected nature of COVID-19, economic systems, and governance systems – and challenges in rebooting/restarting economies (regional and global) as COVID-19 public health and quarantine measures begin to lift.

Title: Five Reasons To Cut Pentagon Spending In the Era of COVID-19
Author: Hartung, William
Publication(s): Forbes
Date: 16 April 2020
Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamhartung/2020/04/16/five-reasons-to-cut-pentagon-spending-in-the-era-of-covid-19/#70ec364e1fec
Notes: This article explores the possibilities of reducing national security and Pentagon related spending during COVID-19 – and the possibility of reforming these budgets in the long-term. Hartung (2020) identifies that “One of the core weaknesses of the current national security strategy is that it relies disproportionately on the Department of Defense to address all threats. It fails to recognize that the major national security challenges the United States faces are not predominantly military. Climate change, economic inequality, and global health challenges clearly pose serious risks to U.S. security. Cyber defense, espionage, and influence operations are also serious challenges. The military is ill-suited to address these challenges.”

Could the Coronavirus Be a Biological Weapon in the Not-Too-Distant Future? (excerpts)

Thalif Deen | Inter Press Service | 20 March 2020

The devastating spread of the deadly coronavirus across every continent– with the exception of Antarctica– has triggered a conspiracy theory on social media: what if the virus was really a biological weapon?

And more specifically, was it an experimental weapon that accidentally escaped from a laboratory in China?

Or as others contend, is it a weapon surreptitiously introduced to de-stabilize a country with more than 1.4 billion people and described as the world’s second largest economy, after the United States.

Both narratives are considered false, and probably part of a deliberate disinformation campaign, according to military experts.

Still, in the US, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has repeated the charge that the virus was a creation of the Chinese military while others source it to North Korea.

And US President Donald Trump has been roundly condemned for “a racist remark” after describing the deadly disease as “a Chinese virus.”

Read more

This collection of 3 articles from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists offers an interesting perspective on the interconnections between COVID-19 and nuclear-related industries. I am additionally cross-posting this list to Overview: (Mass) Radiation Exposure and Overview: Enabling Measures due to its relevance.

Read more

COVID-19 Impact On Nuclear Disarmament

Earl Turcotte

That COVID-19 has created a new global reality is clear. If there is any positive aspect to this unfolding situation, it could be a deeper understanding of the fact that the well-being of people throughout the world is inextricably linked. The COVID crisis might also serve as a cautionary tale, helping us to appreciate the fragility of life and avoid threats to humanity that are within our control.

Read more

Coronavirus in a context of conflicts and humanitarian crisis in eastern DR Congo (excerpts)

This article discusses a fascinating and vital initiative by the Amani Institute in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo in regards to the impacts of COVID-19 on displaced persons. COVID-19 poses particular challenges in conflict zones and displaced populations.

Amani Institute | 4 May 2020

As the Coronavirus pandemic accelerates in Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is increasingly affected. Fear is gaining ground, especially in the east of the country, where numerous armed groups are fueling the humanitarian crisis. The local non-profit organization Amani-Institute ASBL indicates that displaced populations are particularly vulnerable because of their material living conditions resulting from armed violence. Fearing more amplified risks in the province of North Kivu, this socio-cultural movement of young volunteers has already launched the challenge of intervening in the camps for internally displaced persons to raise their awareness of preventive measures and the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic but also solidarity and non-violent communication in this time of crisis.

We are implementing COVID-19 initiative in our community and we are interested in an opportunity to share it with you. So, our initiative is called «Tupone wote» in local Kiswahili it means «Heal together» and we are working on behalf of the local non-profit organization called «Amani-Institute» which is a socio-cultural movement of young volunteers working for promotion of a culture of peace and sustainable development in eastern the Democratic republic of Congo.

Read more


Stopping Deforestation Can Prevent Pandemics (excerpts)

Scientific American | 1 May 2020

“SARS, Ebola and now SARS-CoV-2: all three of these highly infectious viruses have caused global panic since 2002—and all three of them jumped to humans from wild animals that live in dense tropical forests.

Three quarters of the emerging pathogens that infect humans leaped from animals, many of them creatures in the forest habitats that we are slashing and burning to create land for crops, including biofuel plants, and for mining and housing. The more we clear, the more we come into contact with wildlife that carries microbes well suited to kill us—and the more we concentrate those animals in smaller areas where they can swap infectious microbes, raising the chances of novel strains. Clearing land also reduces biodiversity, and the species that survive are more likely to host illnesses that can be transferred to humans. All these factors will lead to more spillover of animal pathogens into people.

Stopping deforestation will not only reduce our exposure to new disasters but also tamp down the spread of a long list of other vicious diseases that have come from rain forest habitats—Zika, Nipah, malaria, cholera and HIV among them. A 2019 study found that a 10 percent increase in deforestation would raise malaria cases by 3.3 percent; that would be 7.4 million people worldwide. Yet despite years of global outcry, deforestation still runs rampant. An average of 28 million hectares of forest have been cut down annually since 2016, and there is no sign of a slowdown.

Read more

This is an interesting article on impacts of COVID-19 in remote / Northern communities of Canada. It is alarming to note that climate change has reduced the access to and availability of ice roads, which are vital for transportation of supplies to many remote / Northern communities in the country.

Title: ‘Hope and pray that we make it through’: COVID-19 underscores vulnerability of remote communities
Author: Eligh, Blake
Publication(s): University of Toronto News
Date: 21 April 2020
Link: https://www.utoronto.ca/news/hope-and-pray-we-make-it-through-covid-19-underscores-vulnerability-remote-communities

Article Excerpt(s):

“Donny Morris faced an extra hurdle as he raced to keep his tiny, fly-in community safe, healthy and stocked with crucial supplies in the face of the COVID-19 crisis: an unusually warm winter and an early closure for a 700-kilometre ice road in northern Ontario.

Morris (left) is chief of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) Reserve, an Oji-Cree community of 1,700 people nestled on the shores of Big Trout Lake, 580 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont. His leadership is vital to keeping the novel coronavirus out of the community, while ensuring members of KI have enough supplies to get them through the months ahead.

“We’re busy suspending operations and planning to deal with this virus if it comes,” says Morris. “Everybody is hunkered down and taking precautionary measures.”

Life on a remote reserve presents unique challenges in preventing and coping with the virus if it arrives. Basic preventative measures like hand washing are more difficult in communities under boil water advisories. Physical distancing is also a challenge where a mix of poor housing conditions and multi-generational families mean more than a dozen people may live under the same roof. In addition, many families have recently welcomed teens back from Ontario high schools in Thunder Bay and Sioux Lookout, putting extra pressure on those households.

“These communities have to deal with tremendous shocks, like floods or fires, on a regular basis,” says Tracey Galloway, assistant professor of anthropology at U of T Mississauga. “Now they are managing in an overwhelming public health emergency.”

The anthropologist and former intensive care nurse is part of an interdisciplinary research group from U of T studying the role that infrastructure, such as airports and ice roads, plays in the health of Indigenous communities in northern Ontario.

“We are trying to understand how communities deal day-to-day, and during emergencies,” Galloway says. “What we’ve learned is how interdependent all of these systems are within communities that have very little ability to withstand the shocks and stresses that come in the normal course of life.”

Northern Indigenous communities face shortages of personal protective equipment for front-line workers and virus testing kits to diagnose the sick. “We don’t have ventilators, gloves or masks – there’s a shortage of supplies,” Morris says. “Everybody is waiting in line, especially when you’re remote.”

While Morris says KI is fortunate to have on-site medical staff – the reserve has medical doctor coverage for three out of four weeks each month – he is concerned that there are not enough nurses to adequately serve the community should the virus arrive.

Sick community members would neet to be evacuated by air ambulance to hospitals hundreds of kilometres away. “We don’t know how effective down south will be at accepting COVID patients if (the virus) does show up in our northern remote communities,” he says.

For now, Morris’ immediate concern is ensuring KI has adequate supplies of food and fuel.

This is the time of year that communities use the ice road to ship in supplies of basic grocery items, building materials and more than two million litres of fuel oil to power electrical and heating systems. Now, the early thaw means northern communities face the costly alternative of flying in necessary supplies.

The situation is forcing Indigenous leaders to reallocate federal program funding to cope with new costs of pandemic priorities. Morris is worried there will be financial penalties later. “Everybody’s feeling the pinch,” he says. “How are we going to adjust when we don’t have planning dollars?”

Galloway (left) says that some remote communities will face an additional challenge if – likely when– the spring floods arrive in northern Ontario. Communities that experience annual flooding, like Kashechewan First Nation, would be forced to evacuate to cities in the south.

“If they flood, the people will have to be evacuated and live in hotels,” says Galloway, adding that Thunder Bay has declared a state of emergency and may not be able to receive evacuees. “They will definitely be at much higher risk of being exposed to the virus. I don’t know how we’ll protect people in that scenario.”

Galloway lauds Indigenous leadership for their quick response to the crisis. “I see strong leadership from organizations like Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Assembly of First Nations,” she says. “They have acted fast on the best available health evidence, and they’re co-ordinated – they’re speaking nation-to-nation with the federal government.

“The public health leaders are telling us that having a co-ordinated, cohesive response is what will protect us. The Indigenous leaders are showing us the way.”

Morris says it’s challenging to stay positive in the face of difficulty. “It’s warm and the snow is melting. You’re confined to your home and you’re not allowed to travel,” he says. “I’d say morale is low.”

“We have to be patient and hope and pray that we make it through. Praying is what we’re doing a lot of nowadays.””

This opinion piece on COVID-19 in the Northwest Territories of Canada is quite interesting. It is alarming to hear that diamond mines in the territory are being kept open as essential services. Notably, mining is a big component of the Northwest Territories’ economy and how much of a decision this played in decisions to keep the mines open has yet to be determined. Parallels may be drawn to other regions of Canada, such as the oil extraction industry in Alberta, which is still operating despite the pandemic – as well as other global regions. There is further precedent for mines and mining camps being a hotspot for COVID-19 cases, per the example at Kearl Lake, Alberta. Significant challenges have additionally arisen in Alberta due to regional flooding.

It is additionally alarming to hear that the entirety of the Northwest Territories only has 6 intensive care (ICU) hospital beds. Many Northern communities are known to have limited access to medical supplies, even during non-pandemic times.

Title: N.W.T. mines are COVID-19 time bombs — let’s put people over profit (Opinion)
Author: Gagnon-van Leeuwen, Thomas
Publication(s): CBC North (CBC News)
Date: 28 April 2020
Link: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/covid-19-time-bombs-nwt-1.5547339

Regarding Kearl Lake, Alberta:

Title: Outbreak of COVID-19 in Alberta oilsands camp raises fears of ‘super-spreaders’
Author: Dawson, Tyler
Publication(s): National Post
Date: 17 April 2020
Link: https://nationalpost.com/news/outbreak-of-covid-19-in-oilsands-camp-raises-fears-of-super-spreaders

This article – written by Retired Senator Douglas Roche – discusses the interconnection of conflicts / wars and COVID-19. The article is very interesting, relevant, and encourages a broader examination of conflicts/wars and how these shape common and international security. Retired Senator Roche’s article (2020) additionally offers broader lessons on the interconnected nature and risks of conflicts/wars and other global crises.

Retired Senator Roche is also a panelist in Project Save the World’s podcast and talk show – featured in Episode 2 (Abolition of Nuclear Weapons) and Episode 47 (After the INF Treaty?).

Please note this link is for an edition of the article published on Pugwash Canada’s website. The original article was published in The Hill Times – a news publication based in Ottawa and focused on the Parliament of Canada.

Title: Warring Parties Must Lay Down Weapons To Fight Bigger Battle Against COVID-19
Author: Roche, Retired Senator Douglas
Publication(s): Pugwash Canada (originally The Hill Times)
Date: 6 April 2020
Link: https://pugwashgroup.ca/warring-parties-must-lay-down-weapons-to-fight-bigger-battle-against-covid-19/

A .pdf of the article is additionally available on Retired Senator Roche’s personal website: http://roche.apirg.org/public_html/writings/documents/nuclear/040620_htRoche.pdf

Article Excerpt(s):

“UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s plea to ‘silence the guns’ would create corridors for lifesaving aid and open windows for diplomacy in the war-torn zones in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the central areas of Africa.”

“The Hill Times, 6 April 2020

EDMONTON—”The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.” In one short sentence, UN Secretary-General António Guterres opened the door to a new understanding of what constitutes human security. Will governments seize the opportunity provided by the immense crisis of COVID-19 to finally adopt a global agenda for peace?

In an extraordinary move on March 23, Guterres urged warring parties around the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19 the common enemy now threatening all of humanity. He called for an immediate global ceasefire everywhere: “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

His plea to “silence the guns” would create corridors for life-saving aid and open windows for diplomacy in the war-torn zones in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the central areas of Africa.

But the full meaning of Guterres’s appeal is much bigger than only suspending existing wars. It is a wakeup call to governments everywhere that war does not solve existing problems, that the huge expenditures going into armaments divert money desperately needed for health supplies, that a bloated militarism is impotent against the new killers in a globalized world.

All the armies in the world can’t stop COVTD-19. It’s a dark and scary moment when a bunch of microbes brings humanity to its knees. We’ve come to a turning point in world history. The old ways of building security—bigger and better weapons—are completely irrelevant now.

So what do we do when a virus blatantly crosses borders and ignores strategic weapons systems? More of the same thinking that deceived people into believing that as long as we had big guns we would be safe won’t do. We have to overhaul our thinking.

“Big thinking” is not just a bromide. It’s now essential for survival. We have to build a system to provide common security. In the midst of the Cold War four decades ago, an all-star international panel led by Swedish prime minister Olof Palme established the principle that, in the age of weapons of mass destruction, no nation by itself can find security. Nations can only find security in cooperation and not at one another’s expense. Common security, Palme argued, requires an end to arms competitions, national restraint, and a spirit of collective responsibility and mutual confidence.

Over the following years, the idea of common security broadened out beyond military measures to include new streams of cooperation in economic and social development and protection of the environment.

Suddenly, in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. The Soviet Union imploded.The Cold War ended. In 1992, the UN secretary-general at the time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali wrote a stunning document, Agenda for Peace, incorporating the ideas of common security into practical programs for peacebuilding, preventive diplomacy and peacekeeping.

But instead of overhauling the global security system to provide common security for everyone, governments lumbered on and threw the peace dividend they had in their hands out the window. The Western countries expanded NATO up to Russia’s borders. Russia invaded Crimea. Arms expenditures shot up. Governments squandered a magnificent opportunity to build a world of peace.The culture of war was too strong and the moment was lost.

Three decades ago, the great historian Barbara Tuchman and author of The March of Folly was right when she wrote: “Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of pre-conceived notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs.”

Now, in the current crisis, Guterres is telling us that continuation of the “folly” of war is jeopardizing the security for all—the rich as well as the marginalized.The Trump administration’s call for $46-billion more for nuclear weapons when the country can’t even provide enough masks for health workers in treating COVID-19 is obscene beyond words.

And what about Canada? The government plans to increase defence spending to $32-billion by 2027. Why? To appease U.S. Donald President Trump’s gargantuan military appetite driving NATO states to spend two percent of their GDP on weaponry and all that goes with it. We can beat COVID-19 by spending money on health and development measures, not arms.

Far better to cut Canada’s planned defence spending by 10 per cent and put an extra $2-billion to $3-billion into the UN’S Sustainable Development Goals, the 17-point program centring around huge improvements in maternal health, water systems and sustainable agriculture. But we can’t get there with a continuation of “ordinary” planning. We need truly bold thinking to beat back the threat posed to common security by COVID-19.

The Canadian government wants to show what it could do on the Security Council. Switching political thinking from the culture of war to a culture of peace would be worthy of the greatest health challenge Canada has faced in the past hundred years.”

This is an interesting CBC article on the potential range of impacts from coronavirus (COVID-19).

Title: Pandemic could affect food supplies, power grids, telecommunications, says government document
Author: Tunney, Catharine
Publication(s): CBC News
Date: 15 April 2020
Link: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/labour-shortages-emergency-food-power-1.5531583

Article Excerpt(s):

“If cases of COVID-19 continue to multiply, labour shortages could affect food supplies and undermine Canada’s critical infrastructure, an internal government briefing note obtained by CBC News warns.

The document, prepared by Public Safety Canada, says accelerating rates of illness among Canadians could create labour shortages in essential services.

The two most “pressing” areas of concern, it says, are procurement of medical goods and the stability of the food supply chain.

“These shortages are likely to have the greatest impact in the two sectors mentioned above, as it will affect our ability to provide health care and essential goods, including food, to Canadians,” notes the document.

“Labour shortages could also affect Canada’s critical infrastructure, including power grids, banking and telecommunications and this will further impair Canadians’ quality of life at this difficult time.”

A federal source, speaking on the condition they not be named, said there’s a fear that some workers in essential services, including prison guards, will refuse to come to work for safety reasons.

Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff said workers have the right to refuse work if they feel unsafe, although the only resistance he’s seeing on a national scale so far is happening among long-term care workers who don’t have proper safety gear.

He said securing more personal protective equipment could calm fears across a number of sectors.

“I know this is a learning curve. You wouldn’t have thought, and I wouldn’t have thought, that grocery clerks should have personal protective equipment like a mask, or a bus driver,” Yussuff said.

“We have never encountered seeing people in those types of jobs wearing a mask doing their regular duties but because of COVID-19, I think we have to be far more vigilant and I think those workers have every right to request the proper mask and their employer should be able to provide it.

“I know everybody is scrambling to make sure that is the reality. But of course, with the limited availability of products, I’m hoping by a week or two maybe most of this might be solved.”

Fears about the stability of supply chains are already playing out in parts of the country.

Oceanex Inc., one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest shipping companies, said Monday that it might have to cancel shipments due to pandemic-related financial losses.

A day later, Marine Atlantic, a federal agency, said it can step in if Oceanex Inc. has to stop carrying freight to St. John’s.

“We’re looking at all options just to make sure the supply chain stays in place,” Seamus O’Regan, MP for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, said Tuesday. “It’s way too important so we’ll make sure it gets done.”

In Alberta, the union representing some workers at the Cargill meat packing plant in High River, about 60 kilometres south of Calgary, is arguing the facility should be closed for at least two weeks to come up with a plan after 38 workers there tested positive for COVID-19.

It echoes a story playing out in the U.S., where the head of Smithfield Foods Inc. — the world’s largest pork producer — recently warned that American meat supplies are “perilously close to the edge” after it shut its South Dakota plant due to an outbreak.

“The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” said Smithfield’s chief executive officer Ken Sullivan in a statement.

“It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running.”

In a briefing on Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says she’s confident Canada has enough food but acknowledged labour shortages on farms and outbreaks among workers at processing plants could affect the food supply.

“I think our system is strong enough and resilient enough that it will adapt, but these days it is particularly challenging,” she said.

“I do not worry that we will not have enough food … but we might see some differences in the variety and, hopefully not, but maybe in the prices as well.”

Yussuff said the government still needs to make sure temporary foreign workers, who travel to Canada for the spring planting, are given protective gear and proper health care and are set up in safe living conditions.

“We continue to raise concerns and [the federal government] is scrambling to try and address them,” he said.

“If they’re not careful, I think it might force countries in which these workers are migrating to come here to do this work to say, ‘Hang on a minute.’ Whether it’s Jamaica or Mexico or Guatemala, those governments might intervene and say, ‘We’re not sending our people to the kind of conditions that are inadequate.'”

The briefing document was prepared as part of the federal government’s consultations with the regions on the Emergencies Act, a step the prime minister has said he’d prefer not to take.

Last week, Trudeau sent a letter to the premiers explaining what invoking the act could entail — such as giving the federal government the power to order qualified people to provide essential services.

“It is our hope that we don’t have to use it, ever,” Trudeau said on Friday.

“We are seeing that the collaboration, the partnership among provinces and territories and the way we’re moving forward on this means that we might not ever have to use the Emergencies Act. And that would be our preference.”

The premiers vehemently opposed deploying those strict measures during a conference call last week and made that clear in writing today when they sent a letter to the prime minister.

“Premiers share the opinion that it is neither necessary nor advisable to invoke the act at this time,” said the letter, signed by Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, chair of the Council of the Federation.

“You have the commitment of premiers to maintain the strong working relationship we have cultivated as we face the challenges of COVID-19 together. We seek to continue to strengthen this cooperation as Canada moves forward.”

That cooperation has been playing out over much of the crisis. For example, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has promised to send personal protective equipment to Ontario and Quebec, the two hardest-hit provinces.

The briefing document also says collaboration between the provinces and territories has been effective.

“However, as the crisis continues to worsen, some additional measures and greater intervention could become appropriate,” notes the document.

Yussuff said he also opposes triggering the never-before-used Emergencies Act to force essential workers to stay on the job.

“I think if people are naturally concerned about their health we should listen to them because nobody should risk their life having to do their work,” he said.

“The Emergencies Act is not going to solve the problem. What will solve it is collaboration and cooperation.””

This article from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace discusses coronavirus (COVID-19) in conflict zone settings – and may be of interest to readers of Project Save the World.

Title: Coronavirus in Conflict Zones: A Sobering Landscape
Author: Brown, Frances Z. and Blanc, Jarrett
Publication(s): Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Date: 14 April 2020
Link: https://carnegieendowment.org/2020/04/14/coronavirus-in-conflict-zones-sobering-landscape-pub-81518

This article is interesting in that it discusses safe distances while exercising during COVID-19. There is some concern that COVID-19 may linger in droplets present in the air for varying times after someone passes by.

Title: Belgian-Dutch Study: Why in times of COVID-19 you should not walk/run/bike close behind each other
Author: Thoelen, Jurgen
Publication(s): Medium
Date: 8 April 2020
Link: https://medium.com/@jurgenthoelen/belgian-dutch-study-why-in-times-of-covid-19-you-can-not-walk-run-bike-close-to-each-other-a5df19c77d08

Article Excerpt(s):

“What is a safe distance when running, biking and walking during COVID-19 times? It is further than the typical 1–2 meter as prescribed in different countries!

Check also the Q&A with the Investigators: https://medium.com/@jurgenthoelen/why-in-times-of-covid-19-you-should-not-walk-run-bike-close-behind-each-other-follow-up-with-q-a-ca44e12cc54d

Edit 10/04/2020: a link to the preprint of the paper ‘Towards aerodynamically equivalent COVID19 1.5 m social distancing for walking and running’ was added in sources. The content of the article is not updated with any new info in the paper. Please read the paper for more, deeper info and raise respectful questions to the researcher if you feel the need.

Edit 21/04/2020: title of the article was slightly changed to bring it more in line with the content and to avoid confusion with those people who actually do not read the article but only the title. You can not be too precise.

In a lot of countries walking, biking and jogging are welcome activities in these times of COVID-19. However, it is important to note that you need to avoid each other’s slipstream when doing these activities. This comes out of the result of a study by the KU Leuven (Belgium) and TU Eindhoven (Netherlands). (1)(2)(3)(4)

The typical social distancing rule which many countries apply between 1–2 meters seems effective when you are standing still inside or even outside with low wind. But when you go for a walk, run or bike ride you better be more careful. When someone during a run breathes, sneezes or coughs, those particles stay behind in the air. The person running behind you in the so-called slip-stream goes through this cloud of droplets.

The researchers came to this conclusion by simulating the occurrence of saliva particles of persons during movement (walking and running) and this from different positions (next to each other, diagonally behind each other and directly behind each other). Normally this type of modelling is used to improve the performance level of athletes as staying in each other air-stream is very effective. But when looking at COVID-19 the recommendation is to stay out of the slipstream according to the research.

The results of the test are made visible in a number of animations and visuals. The cloud of droplets left behind by a person is clearly visible. “People who sneeze or cough spread droplets with a bigger force, but also people who just breathe will leave particles behind”. The red dots on the image represent the biggest particles. These create the highest chance of contamination but also fall down faster. “But when running through that cloud they still can land on your clothing” according to Professor Bert Blocken.

Out of the simulations, it appears that social distancing plays less of a role for 2 people in a low wind environment when running/walking next to each other. The droplets land behind the duo. When you are positioned diagonally behind each other the risk is also smaller to catch the droplets of the lead runner. The risk of contamination is the biggest when people are just behind each other, in each other’s slipstream.

On the basis of these results the scientist advises that for walking the distance of people moving in the same direction in 1 line should be at least 4–5 meter, for running and slow biking it should be 10 meters and for hard biking at least 20 meters. Also, when passing someone it is advised to already be in different lane at a considerable distance e.g. 20 meters for biking.
This is definitely information I will be taking into account and it also puts in perspective the closing of busy parks etc. Perhaps the better way is just running in the street, on your own or at least with sufficient distance. Stay safe…

Check also the Q&A with the Investigators: https://medium.com/@jurgenthoelen/why-in-times-of-covid-19-you-should-not-walk-run-bike-close-behind-each-other-follow-up-with-q-a-ca44e12cc54d

(1): https://www.demorgen.be/nieuws/belgisch-onderzoek-fietsen-joggen-of-wandelen-doe-je-best-niet-achter-elkaar-in-tijden-van-corona~b60aece6/

(2): https://www.hln.be/wetenschap-planeet/wetenschap/belgisch-onderzoek-fietsen-joggen-of-wandelen-doe-je-best-niet-achter-elkaar-in-tijden-van-corona~a60aece6/

(3): http://www.urbanphysics.net/Social%20Distancing%20v20_White_Paper.pdf

(4): http://www.urbanphysics.net/COVID19_Aero_Paper.pdf

Thank you to Evnur Taran – a fellow associate editor of Peace Magazine – for sharing this article during the editorial meeting on 7 April 2020. It is alarming to consider that antibiotic resistance could be breeding in garbage dumps and landfills, partially due to the improper discarding of antibiotic medications. It is additionally alarming to consider the implications for communities living downwind from these sites, particularly as some antibiotic resistant microbes may be distributed in air pollution emanating from these sites.

Title: Superbugs in the Air: Burned Or Buried, Garbage Spread Antibiotic Resistance
Author: Angus, Ian
Publication(s): Climate and Capitalism
Date: 25 March 2020
Link: https://climateandcapitalism.com/2020/03/25/municipal-garbage-dumps-spread-antibiotic-resistance/

Article Excerpt(s):

“In my recent Monthly Review article, Superbugs in the Anthropocene, I discussed the growth of the antibiotic resistome, the worldwide pool of genes that enable bacteria to resist antibiotics. Such genes can concentrate in environmental hot spots, where resistance can easily spread.

“Hot spots, in soil and water as well as in hospitals, factories, sewage-treatment plants, and factory farms, provide excellent conditions for the spread of multidrug-resistant bacteria in local ecosystems and around the world.”

Add municipal landfills to that list.

Research published this week in Environmental Science & Technology, a journal of the American Chemical Society (ACS), concludes that trash buried in landfills or incinerated can be an important source of antibiotic-resistance genes in the air. Discarded medications accelerate the evolution of resistance in the bacteria that is found normally in garbage, and that endangers people who live downwind.

The ACS reports that Chinese researchers studied bacteria community and associated antibiotic-resistance genes in the municipal solid waste treatment system of Changzhou, a city in eastern China.

“The researchers collected air samples surrounding a landfill site, a municipal solid waste incinerator and two transfer stations (where garbage is delivered and processed). Air from both the municipal incinerator and the landfill site had higher levels of particulate matter and bacteria than upwind locations. The team identified 16 antibiotic-resistance genes in the air samples and tracked their source to municipal solid waste and leachate in the system. The genes were much more abundant in air downwind from the facilities than upwind.”

There is no reason to think that the Changzhou city dump is unusual. Most if not all waste landfills contribute to the spread of drug-resistant superbugs through the air, so just breathing can be dangerous.”

Linked below is an interesting article discussing the implications of COVID-19 on agricultural industries, particularly within the context of the United States of America. It is alarming to hear that farmers are destroying food products – as many clients – such as restaurants – are shut due to the pandemic. The article specifically mentions how 80% of Florida-grown tomatoes usually end up at restaurants. Some farmers are selling these at bulk to individual consumers at very low prices, however the vast majority of several crops (including tomatoes and zucchinis among others) are being allowed to rot. The article additionally mentions a situation in the Central and Northeastern regions of the United States of America where farmers have been destroying milk products due to COVID-19. This is alarming to hear considering the high levels of food insecurity in a number of global regions.

A similar situation is unfolding in The Netherlands where vast quantities of greenhouse-grown plants – including a significant quantity of Europe’s cut flowers, houseplants, and ornamental plants for gardens, etc. are being destroyed as the demand this season has dropped due to COVID-19. According to Royal FloraHolland between 70 and 80% of the country’s total annual production of flowers is being destroyed, including the Netherlands’ famous tulips – which are a national symbol.

Article regarding the United States agricultural situation and COVID-19:

Title: Coronavirus claims an unexpected victim: Florida vegetables
Author: Lush, Tamara and Taxin, Amy
Publication(s): Montréal City News
Date: 8 April 2020
Link: https://montreal.citynews.ca/2020/04/08/coronavirus-claims-an-unexpected-victim-florida-vegetables

Article regarding the Netherlands and greenhouse-grown plants situation:

Title: Dutch destroy millions of flowers as coronavirus wilts sales
Author: Agence France-Presse’s Staff
Publication(s): CTV News
Date: 20 March 2020
Link: https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/dutch-destroy-millions-of-flowers-as-coronavirus-wilts-sales-1.4861612

This is an interesting article from The Citizen Lab (University of Toronto) regarding the censoring of data and materials on COVID-19 in China. What are folks thoughts on this article?

Title: Censored Contagion: How Information on the Coronavirus is Managed on Chinese Social Media
Author: Ruan, Lotus; Knockel, Jeffrey; and Crete-Nishihata, Masashi
Publication(s): The Citizen Lab (University of Toronto)
Date: 3 March 2020
Link: https://citizenlab.ca/2020/03/censored-contagion-how-information-on-the-coronavirus-is-managed-on-chinese-social-media/
Note(s): The article is quite long, but is interesting. There are additionally interesting and relevant illustrations.

Article Excerpt(s):

From the Key Findings Section:

1) “YY, a live-streaming platform in China, began to censor keywords related to the coronavirus outbreak on December 31, 2019, a day after doctors (including the late Dr. Li Wenliang) tried to warn the public about the then unknown virus.

2) WeChat broadly censored coronavirus-related content (including critical and neutral information) and expanded the scope of censorship in February 2020. Censored content included criticism of government, rumours and speculative information on the epidemic, references to Dr. Li Wenliang, and neutral references to Chinese government efforts on handling the outbreak that had been reported on state media.

3) Many of the censorship rules are broad and effectively block messages that include names for the virus or sources for information about it. Such rules may restrict vital communication related to disease information and prevention.”

From the Article Itself:

(Regarding one of the methods of censorship):

“YY censors keywords client-side meaning that all of the rules to perform censorship are found inside of the application. YY has a built-in list of keywords that it uses to perform checks to determine if any of these keywords are present in a chat message before a message is sent. If a message contains a keyword from the list, then the message is not sent. The application downloads an updated keyword list each time it is run, which means the lists can change over time.

WeChat censors content server-side meaning that all the rules to perform censorship are on a remote server. When a message is sent from one WeChat user to another, it passes through a server managed by Tencent (WeChat’s parent company) that detects if the message includes blacklisted keywords before a message is sent to the recipient. Documenting censorship on a system with a server-side implementation requires devising a sample of keywords to test, running those keywords through the app, and recording the results. In previous work, we developed an automated system for testing content on WeChat to determine if it is censored.”


“On December 31, 2019, a day after Dr. Li Wenliang and seven others warned of the COVID-19 outbreak in WeChat groups, YY added 45 keywords to its blacklist, all of which made references to the then unknown virus that displayed symptoms similar to SARS (the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome epidemic that started in southern China and spread globally in 2003).

Among the 45 censored keywords related to the COVID-19 outbreak, 40 are in simplified Chinese and five in traditional Chinese. These keywords include factual descriptions of the flu-like pneumonia disease, references to the name of the location considered as the source of the novel virus, local government agencies in Wuhan, and discussions of the similarity between the outbreak in Wuhan and SARS. Many of these keywords such as “沙士变异” (SARS variation) are very broad and effectively block general references to the virus.”


“Between January 1 and February 15, 2020, we found 516 keyword combinations directly related to COVID-19 that were censored in our scripted WeChat group chat. The scope of keyword censorship on WeChat expanded in February 2020. Between January 1 and 31, 2020, 132 keyword combinations were found censored in WeChat. Three hundred and eight-four new keywords were identified in a two week testing window between February 1 and 15.

Keyword combinations include text in simplified and traditional Chinese. We translated each keyword combination into English and, based on interpretations of the underlying context, grouped them into content categories.

Censored COVID-19-related keyword combinations cover a wide range of topics, including discussions of central leaders’ responses to the outbreak, critical and neutral references to government policies on handling the epidemic, responses to the outbreak in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau, speculative and factual information on the disease, references to Dr. Li Wenliang, and collective action.”

An interesting article on the COVID-19 situation in Latin America.

Title: What Latin American Countries Are Doing to Confront Coronavirus
Author: Wemer, David A.
Publication(s): The Atlantic Council
Date: 23 March 2020
Link: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/what-latin-american-countries-are-doing-to-confront-coronavirus/

Article Excerpt:

“As governments in North America, Europe, Asia, and around the world continue to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Latin American leaders are stepping up their efforts as cases are beginning to be documented in their countries. Although the number of cases across the region remains mostly lower than the epicenters in Europe and the United States, “we are not letting our guard down,” El Salvador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexandra Hill Tinoco said on March 23. “No one can guarantee us that it is not going to hit us,” she explained, so every Latin American government is taking the threat seriously.

According to Fernando Llorca Castro, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States, most governments throughout the region have been preparing for outbreaks since the first news of the virus in China emerged in January. Costa Rica immediately began bringing “institutions from different sectors to the table” to discuss preparations by early January, he explained. Chilean Ambassador to the United States Alfonso Silva Navarro reported that his government set up a committee for coordination in January, while Hill Tinoco added that El Salvador “activated an enlarged health cabinet” at the same time. El Salvador also went as far as to suspend all flights from China and entry to travelers coming from China shortly after the World Health Organization declared an emergency on January 30.

As the virus spread into the region by mid-March, governments began taking escalating steps to limit its spread, despite low initial numbers. Colombia has already enacted a three-week quarantine for the entire country, the country’s ambassador to the United States Francisco Santos Calderón, explained, although documenting less than four hundred cases and three deaths so far. Santos Calderón added that “anybody seventy or older is going to be quarantined until May 30.” In Chile, over 80 percent of the cases are in the capital of Santiago, Silva Navarro reported, and in response the government has restricted internal movement to other areas of the country in order to limit the spread of the virus.

To help prepare for a potential explosion of cases, Silva Navarro said the Chilean government has already increased hospital bed capacity in the country from 37,000 to 42,000 beds, including the opening of five new hospitals. The government is also working on deploying a hospital ship to “move around the country” with spare bed capacity and a purchase of “4,000 ventilators by the end of the week. Costa Rica has just over 130 cases as of March 23, but the government has already begun construction on a specific hospital “to face only patients from [the] coronavirus,” while also “trying to keep all the [necessary] equipment and healthcare providers available to face this,” Llorca Castro said.

Regional policymakers are also focused on minimizing the potential economic effects of the outbreak and the quarantine measures. Hill Tonoco said that El Salvador has suspended electric, internet, and phone bills for three months, frozen monthly rental payments, mortgages, and loan payments for three months, and expanded unemployment protections. Similar protection measures have been launched in Colombia, Santos Calderón said, paid for by shifting money from the national oil company and the pensions systems, due to a preexisting tight government budget.

Despite the needed controls to help slow the spread of the curve, Llorca Castro maintained that regional governments “have been trying to keep the borders open” in order to sustain critical trade between countries. “Our borders are not closed,” Hill Tonoco added, “it is business as usual.” This does not mean that incoming goods and vendors are flowing full freely as normal but “the truck driver has to wear a mask,” and unnecessary passengers will not be permitted, she said, noting that border checks will ensure that goods continue to travel while restricting the contact individuals have with the general population.

Santos Calderón specifically warned about the challenge neighboring Venezuela, which has been enduring an economic and societal collapse under the regime of Nicolas Maduro for the last few years, will bring to Colombia’s efforts to slow the virus. “If something really critical is going to happen with this crisis it is going to come from Venezuela,” he explained, as poor nourishment and lack of any organized healthcare system makes the population there extraordinarily susceptible to the disease. Colombia’s healthcare system is already under strain from the millions of Venezuelans who have fled the Maduro regime and Santos Calderón fears that the refugee population will balloon as “if you are facing death and a lack of a health system, you will want to move to Colombia [for treatment].”

Santos Calderón conceded that the outbreak has created “a new challenge and [has prompted] a new way of governing during this period,” as cities, the private sector, and different government agencies all try to coordinate an effective response. “Nobody was prepared for what is happening,” he explained, but governments are taking every precaution that they can. “The life of one human being is worth every sacrifice,” Hill Tonoco said, adding that governments around the region “have done everything that is in our hands” to meet this crisis head-on.”

This Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ interview with Dr. Jeffrey Lewis – author of “The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States: A Speculative Novel” – discusses similarities in government response between a hypothetical nuclear attack and the COVID-19 pandemic. This interview may be of interest to readers of Project Save the World.

Title: How the Coronavirus Outbreak is like a Nuclear Attack: An Interview with Jeffrey Lewis
Author: Lewis, Jeffrey and Krzyzaniak, John
Publication(s): Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Date: 20 March 2020
Link: https://thebulletin.org/2020/03/how-the-coronavirus-outbreak-is-like-a-nuclear-attack-an-interview-with-jeffrey-lewis/

Article Excerpt(s):

“One thing about nuclear command and control, which the virus outbreak underscores, is that it is so hard to get good information in a crisis. The epidemic spiraled out of control so quickly in certain countries that even the best experts were rushing to figure out what was going on. To me the danger of a nuclear war is not that somebody’s going to get up one morning and say, “Ah, fuck it,” and push the button. It’s that we’re deeply flawed as human beings, and we have imperfect information, and we’re always trying to make decisions under complexity. And I think you saw the same things here. There was enough uncertainty early on that people could argue about how contagious the virus is, or how deadly it is. That uncertainty hampered the response at a critical moment.”

This is an interesting article on the impacts of COVID-19 on electoral systems in Africa. Many electoral systems on the continent are already sensitive political systems and social environments. A widespread pandemic is leading to concerns of the failing or increasing instability of regional democratic systems.

Title: African Elections in the Time of Coronavirus
Author: Tyburski, Luke
Publication(s): Africa Source: The Atlantic Council
Date: 24 March 2020
Link: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/africasource/african-elections-in-the-time-of-coronavirus/

Article Excerpt(s):

“African elections slated for 2020 are already being affected by COVID-19, with the potential for delays and disruptions to have significant impact on election credibility, political trust, and adherence to term limits across the continent.

In a year of high-profile elections across the continent, logistical preparations are already ongoing and were meant to be ratcheting up in places like Ghana, which is slated for presidential polls in December, and Ethiopia, where parliamentary polls are set for August. Both countries still need to prepare the voter roll, but bans on public gatherings have flipped electoral timelines on their head. Ghana’s Electoral Commission has announced an indefinite delay of the voter registration exercise, though it promises to resume as soon as possible. With elections approaching sooner and facing a larger population, Ethiopia’s logistical dilemma is even greater. Registration was intended for April with campaigning to begin in May, both well within the window in which COVID-19 looms large.

While election delays would likely prompt bigger headlines than truncated registration periods, the importance of these pre-election logistics cannot be overlooked. The international community should be especially vigilant under these circumstances and be willing to speak up sooner rather than later if countries pursue untenable schedules that imperil the underlying credibility of the polls.

Unfortunately, decisions to delay or revise election programming are bound to be politicized. Opposition groups across the continent are already using governments’ virus response as a means to criticize ruling parties. The General Secretary of Ghana’s main opposition party, for example, has claimed that the ban on public gatherings is a conspiracy to rig the election. This comes as many elections on the continent already face significant trust deficits and a status quo of losing parties crying foul (based on evidence of irregularities or otherwise). In 2019, all nine of the presidential contests on the continent were marred by alleged irregularities, with losing parties taking the results to court in all but Senegal and South Africa. Coronavirus disruptions and accompanying disputes risk further cementing this sub-optimal status quo.

An element of African elections that had been improving as of late is adherence to term limits. This past year, Mauritania’s leader stepped down abiding by term limits, and looking ahead, Presidents Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire and Nkurunziza of Burundi have agreed not to run for additional terms in 2020. Burundi goes to the polls in May, while Côte d’Ivoire will do so in October. While there have been no definitive signs of these politicians altering course at the time of writing, the potential for coronavirus-related states of emergency to be abused cannot be ignored. Further scrutiny should be placed on Burundi, where even if Nkurunziza keeps his promise, his ruling party may be incentivized to skew the playing field toward their new candidate, who analysts say may be the underdog in a free election. The polls are unlikely to be fully credible, and certainly will not be sufficiently observed, but careful attention should be placed on further attempts to restrict campaigning, which would disproportionately hurt the opposition.

Of particular note is Guinea’s decision to go ahead with elections on Sunday, March 22, which included parliamentary polls and a boycotted rubber-stamp referendum on a new constitution that will pave the way for President Alpha Condé to stay in power. With two confirmed cases, and neighboring countries having already limited public gatherings, Guinea’s decision to go ahead has understandably been met by scrutiny. It is hard not to read the situation as an example of political imperatives trumping health directives, and the election’s fallout will advise others as a test case of election administration under coronavirus.

Guinea’s health situation should be watched carefully in the coming days, with the potential for political and social tensions to rise if cases balloon following a day of crowded polling stations and intra-country travel associated with administering the election. Such a scenario would reflect badly on President Condé, whose politics-as-usual post on election day (below) is in stark contrast to the Twitter content of other African leaders, who have taken to the platform to advocate social distancing and hygiene practices.


Lastly, while presidential contests will be the most publicized, it is worth bearing in mind that parliamentary and local government elections could also be disrupted in places like Gabon (late 2020), Mali (May), Namibia (November), Senegal (late 2020), and Somalia (December). In many places, the average citizen deals more with these types of officials in day-to-day affairs and service provision, meaning that disruptions could be impactful.

With these themes in mind, the Africa Center will continue to follow elections around the continent this year in the time of coronavirus. Be sure to follow our page for updates as they emerge. “

The majority of the media articles and perspectives which I have seen shared and discussed on popular and social media are focused on developed nations. The Atlantic Council offers this interesting article around the impacts of COVID-19 [coronavirus] on Africa.

Title: What does the coronavirus mean for Africa?
Author: Bruton, Bronwyn
Publication(s): The Atlantic Council
Date: 24 March 2020
Link: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/africasource/what-does-the-coronavirus-mean-for-africa/
Note(s): It is particularly concerning to consider the impacts of COVID-19 on slum communities that may have limited medical resources and capability to facilitate self-isolation. An estimated 40% of Africans live in water-stressed environments – leading to limitations with disinfection measures, such as hand-washing with water and soap. The authors of this article note that Africa has had – as of 24 March 2020 – a slower onslaught of the virus – potentially due to early screening measures implemented at airports – combined with a warmer climate (which is theorized to slow the spread of the virus).

Article Excerpt(s):

“Since its emergence in December 2019, the novel coronavirus has spread rampantly across the globe, overwhelming health systems and cratering the global economy. In the United States—where federal authorities have failed to perform widespread testing for the virus and have therefore been unable to implement the targeted quarantines of infected individuals that have allowed South Korea to defeat the virus with limited disruptions to everyday life—states and cities have been forced to rely on blanket restrictions of movement, including the closure of most schools and businesses. The economic impact of these “social distancing” strategies has been severe, triggering a recession that is expected to rival the Great Depression in its severity, and leading President Trump to call for a reassessment of the response after less than fifteen days—far sooner than epidemiologists recommend.

African nations are unlikely to enjoy this luxury of choice. In the affluent enclaves of Johannesburg or Nairobi, white-collar professionals will be able to homeschool children and telecommute through this crisis, just as professionals are doing in Washington, DC. But more than 70 percent of African urbanites—approximately 200 million people—reside in crowded city slums, with limited access to plumbing or electricity. In those environments, social distancing may be effectively impossible. Some 40 percent of Africans live in water-stressed environments in which obtaining access to clean water—let alone soap—is an insurmountable daily hurdle, and for those populations, even simple measures to prevent the spread of the virus, such as frequent handwashing, will be out of reach. For the 85 percent of Africans who live on less than $5.50 per day, work stoppages will pose an existential threat. Sheltering in place for long periods of time—weeks or more—will simply not be possible. So what will African nations do? Will COVID-19 spread across the African nations as virulently as it has spread through Asia and Europe, or will Africa’s climate and demographics provide some shield?

The answer will vary greatly across and within individual countries. Africa’s smaller, middle-income, and more-industrialized nations (including Senegal, Rwanda, and Botswana) are likely to fare better than large countries that serve as regional transit and economic hubs (like Ethiopia and Nigeria), because they have greater control over their borders and are better equipped to implement social distancing measures than countries with large urban slums and international transit corridors. Countries in conflict (including Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mali) and remote rural villages are also likely to be hit especially hard by COVID-19. There, medical services, electricity, potable water sources, and internet connectivity are mostly lacking. In these least-served and least-accessible areas, news of the virus may spread far more slowly than the disease itself, and COVID-19 will join a list of other killers, including malnutrition and violence. Many coronavirus deaths in conflict and rural zones are likely to remain undiagnosed and unrecorded—there, as in previous epidemics, the extent of suffering may never be fully known.

The coronavirus toll in the crowded megacities and the refugee camps, however, will likely be both visible and terrible. Since the first emergence of the novel coronavirus, epidemiologists have predicted a deadly explosion of cases across the African continent. As in Europe, health care systems are expected to be rapidly overwhelmed. But while Western and Asian nations may attempt to increase their production of needed supplies, African nations do not have the domestic capability to manufacture respirators, medicines, or medical supplies, and may—if they need to rely on humanitarian shipments from donor nations whose own economies have been gutted, whose own hospitals may be overwhelmed and under-resourced, and whose borders may be closed to even humanitarian personnel—rapidly find themselves starved of the basic resources they need to track and treat this disease.

But Africa’s prospects are not unremittingly grim. Many nations have already fallen back on previous experiences containing the Ebola virus, and acted rapidly to institute temperature checks, to cancel international flights, and to impose isolation measures on those who appear ill. These measures may have helped some countries to delay the arrival of COVID-19.

Whether African nations will be able to flatten the curve after COVID-19 begins to spread locally within their populations is a harder question to answer. As the thumbnail case studies that follow indicate, many nations are adopting innovative strategies for containing the spread of the disease. African countries may also, in a best-case scenario, derive some benefit from the climate and unique demographics of the continent. Experts are hoping that the coronavirus will, like seasonal influenza, become less-transmissible in heat, and though we don’t know for sure, some experts have suggested that the continent’s relatively hot climate may help explain the surprisingly slow spread of the virus across Africa.

The continent’s demographics are another potential source of optimism. COVID-19, though virulently contagious, is a disease that is often asymptomatic or mild in youths—and a stunning 70 percent of Africa’s population is under the age of thirty. A mere 4 percent of the population is in the highest-risk age category of over-65. Because this virus afflicts the generations so differently, it is possible that Africa’s experience of coronavirus may vary greatly from that of the aging Western and Asian worlds.

Whether because of the heat, the age of the population, or because African nations were early adopters of screening measures at international airports, the continent’s hospitals have not yet been overrun and only a handful of deaths have been recorded in Sub-Saharan Africa. In spite of the low case load, capital and major cities have already, and especially in the last week, adopted a slew of new measures, from business closures to handwashing stations, to delay the onslaught of the virus.

Outside the major cities, however, there is only a slow spreading of concern. And even within many of the cosmopolitan capitals, misinformation, fake news, and distrust of government authorities is making it harder to restrict movement and limit the size of gatherings. Another source of worry is the critical shortage of hospital beds (African nations generally have fewer than one hospital bed per one thousand people, about one third the capacity of the US) and respirators, which means that only a small fraction of sufferers of the disease can hope for life-saving interventions. And a major unanswered question is how malnutrition, HIV-AIDs, tuberculosis, malaria, or other chronic conditions will interact with COVID-19. If those with compromised immune systems are more likely to suffer worse outcomes, the case fatality rate in Africa may be higher than elsewhere despite the youthfulness of the population. Data on previous epidemics—from the 1918 Spanish flu to the harsh 2002 influenza season—are spotty when it comes to Africa, but suggest that the rate of African deaths may be comparatively high (according to the World Health Organization, the case fatality rate in 2002 was globally less than 0.1 percent, but was 3 percent in Malawi, for example). But in previous epidemics, the vast majority of African deaths have been in children under the age of five—a population that has almost been entirely spared by COVID-19.

As African governments race to divert all available resources to preventing the spread of this disease, they have begun to experience significant economic strains—both from business shut downs and the failing global economy—and they may yet face a significant drop in foreign humanitarian assistance as the donor nations find themselves overwhelmed. Plunging oil prices will decimate the budgets of a number of countries—among them Angola and Nigeria—while the lack of inventory that has resulted from China’s manufacturing and export slowdown threatens business and building activity everywhere in Africa. There is some long-term hope that the coronavirus pandemic, which has put a spotlight on the world’s dangerous dependency on Chinese manufacturing, may ultimately lead to a redirection of supply chains to African and other developing nations. But in the short-term, the economic outlook is probably more dire in Africa than elsewhere.

The Africa Center’s coronavirus coverage will address a series of pressing questions in the days to come:

What will be the economic, political, and social impacts of the virus? How will foreign relations be impacted? And what new security concerns will arise from the pandemic?”

A correction: Not all areas in Africa are developing and there are certainly developed regions on the continent as well.

It will be interesting to see if these trends continue for other developing regions, such as remote areas of Latin America and the South Pacific.

This article bridges cyber-security and pandemics. It is alarming to hear that COVID-19 disinformation campaigns are being undertaken.

Title: Six Reasons the Kremlin Spreads Disinformation About the Coronavirus [Analysis]
Author: Kalensky, Jakub
Publication(s): Digital Forensic Research Lab (Atlantic Council)
Date: 24 March 2020
Link: https://medium.com/dfrlab/commentary-six-reasons-the-kremlin-spreads-disinformation-about-the-coronavirus-8fee41444f60

Article Excerpt(s):

“A recent internal report published by the European Union’s diplomatic service revealed that pro-Kremlin media have mounted a “significant disinformation campaign” about the COVID-19 pandemic aimed at Europe. Previous statements by Western officials, including acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Philip Reeker, warning of the campaign suggested that its contours were already visible by the end of February 2020.
The Kremlin’s long-term strategic goal in the information sphere is enduring and stable: undermining Western unity while strengthening Kremlin influence. Pro-Kremlin information operations employ six complementary tactics to achieve that goal, and the ongoing disinformation campaign on COVID-19 is no exception.

1. Spread anti-US, anti-Western, and anti-NATO messages to weaken them

Russian media started spreading false accusations that COVID-19 was a biological weapon manufactured by the United States in late January. The claim has appeared in other languages since then. This messaging is in line with decades of Soviet and Russian propaganda that has been fabricating stories about various diseases allegedly being a U.S. creation at least since 1949.

These messages aim to deepen anti-American, or more generally, anti-Western sentiment. Sometimes, the “perpetrator” is the entire NATO alliance, not just the United States, a variation that the DFRLab has traced in languages other than Russian as well. The impact on an average consumer of these messages will be approximately the same: anti-Western, anti-NATO and anti-U.S. feelings often go hand-in-hand in Europe.

2. Sow chaos and panic

In the aftermath of a tragedy or crisis, pro-Kremlin media outlets often try to incite fear, panic, chaos, and hysteria. On several occasions, in the aftermath of a terror attack in Europe or the United States, pro-Kremlin outlets spread accusations that the attack was a false flag operation conducted by various governments or secret services against its citizens, or that it was staged to impose greater control over the public.

These campaigns aim to stoke and exploit emotions, among which fear is one of the strongest. An audience shaken by fear will be more irrational and more prone to further disinformation operations.

3. Undermine the target audience’s trust in credible sources of information, be it traditional media or the government

Another messaging tactic tries to convince the target audience that the truth is different from whatever is being said by government institutions, local authorities or the media, thereby undermining trust in credible information sources. Convincing people to believe bogus sources of information first requires persuading them that real sources of accurate information cannot be trusted.

4. Undermine trust in objective facts by spreading multiple contradictory messages

According to a March 2020 review of COVID-19-related disinformation cases conducted by EUvsDisinfo, one popular pro-Kremlin narrative alleges, “[t]he virus is a powerful biological weapon, employed by the U.S., the Brits, or the opposition in Belarus.” A few days after the EUvsDisinfo report, pro-Kremlin outlets then accused Latvia of producing the virus. Spreading multiple and often contradictory versions of events undermines trust in objective facts.

The Kremlin has deployed this tactic liberally: after the MH17 tragedy, after the attack on an humanitarian convoy in Syria, and after the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal. The aim here is not to persuade people to believe one particular version of events, but to persuade the average consumer that there are so many versions of events that the truth can never be found. This tactic can be rather effective: then-U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump has previously said that “no one really knows who did it” [i.e. shot down MH17] despite available evidence and statements by US authorities.

5. Spread conspiracies to facilitate the acceptance of other conspiracies

People who believe one conspiracy theory are more likely to accept others. If your job is to spread lies, it helps to promote other conspiracies as well. The pro-Kremlin media has a history of spreading conspiracy theories and elevating conspiracy theorists. A global pandemic that naturally leads to rumor-mongering is an ideal opportunity to spread some additional unfounded beliefs.

6. Identify the channels spreading disinformation

In his book on disinformation, Romanian defector Ion Mihai Pacepa described “Operation Ares,” which used U.S. involvement in Vietnam to spread anti-American feelings both within the United States and abroad in an effort to isolate the United States on the international scene.

“All we had to do was to continue planting the seeds of Ares and water them day after day after day,” Pacepa wrote. “Eventually, American leftists would seize upon Ares and would start pursuing it of their own accord. In the end, our original involvement would be forgotten and Ares would take on a life of its own.”

When you spread disinformation, you not only try to influence the audience — you also gain valuable information from the audience. You identify the channels through which disinformation spreads and the intermediaries that help disinformation reach new audiences. You also see who counters your disinformation. Especially in a time of crisis, when rumors spread faster and travel further than normal, a well-organized disinformation campaign can lend valuable insight into how an adversary’s information environment is organized. This insight is extremely valuable for any future disinformation operations. Knowing who will help you spread the desired information, and whom to try to discredit ahead of time, makes new disinformation campaigns easier to mount and sustain.

An interesting article from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in regards to the impacts of COVID-19 on nuclear inspections in Iran.

Title: One potential victim of coronavirus? Nuclear inspections in Iran
Author: Moore, George M.
Publication(s): Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Date: 17 March 2020
Link: https://thebulletin.org/2020/03/one-potential-victim-of-coronavirus-nuclear-inspections-in-iran/
Notes: See article excerpts.

Article Excerpt(s):

” Should the new IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi decide to suspend inspection visits to protect the health of his inspectors, it could metastasize concerns about Iranian nuclear proliferation. The same result would occur if Iran acted unilaterally to bar inspectors based on real or manufactured concerns about further spread of Covid-19.

To date, there is no public information about whether the IAEA will continue to send inspectors to Iran under the terms of the nuclear deal. Suspending inspections, even temporarily, could potentially leave a multi-month gap that Iran could exploit if it chose to fully break out of the nuclear agreement. In early March, the IAEA reported that Iran had amassed over 1,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, nearly triple the amount allowed under the deal. Following this announcement, updated estimates of Iran’s breakout time—the amount of time needed to amass enough fissile material to produce one nuclear weapon—ranged from approximately four to six months. These estimates depend on assumptions about the type of design Iran might be capable of initially using. Implosion systems require less fissile material than gun-type designs. Whatever the exact breakout time might be, most estimates fall within a timespan that health officials seem to indicate might be the duration of the Covid-19 threat.

Whether Iran would attempt to use the cover of Covid-19 to begin a dash for a nuclear weapon is uncertain. However, the loss of “eyes on the ground” in the form of IAEA inspections would probably heighten the worst fears about Iranian proliferation and possibly worsen already dim prospects for cooperation. Even before the coronavirus breakout, Iran had expanded its production of enriched uranium, probably in an attempt to exert pressure and improve its negotiating leverage following the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal and its reimposition of sanctions in 2018.

A second and related danger is that, absent the IAEA inspections, there is a greater possibility of miscalculation regarding Iran and its nuclear potential and intentions. Without hard data, US policy makers could begin to fear the worst and assume that Iran was dashing toward a bomb, and it would be difficult to prove otherwise. Other nations, both Iran’s neighbors in the Middle East and other global powers, might also react in unexpected ways, based on insufficient information and fear that Iran was breaking out to produce a nuclear weapon. In any event, lack of information generally leads to instability and whenever nuclear weapons, or the threat of nuclear weapons, is involved, instability could be exceedingly dangerous.

What could, or should, Director General Grossi and the IAEA member states do about this situation to mitigate any potential risks? First, it is essential that any hazards to the health of IAEA inspectors be minimized. The agency must pre-screen its inspectors before they travel to identify those at heightened risk. In addition, inspectors should be equipped to deal with potential contact with the virus by using proper disposable clothing and disinfecting procedures. Inspectors should also be accompanied by medical personnel and should strive to be self-sufficient with food and housing. It is also possible that enhanced technical oversight systems could be installed to temporarily decrease or eliminate the need for inspectors. Although the IAEA has apparently used remote surveillance systems in Iran, the effectiveness of those systems in a situation where inspectors cannot enter Iran will need to be evaluated, and new or upgraded systems may be needed. Such installations would need to be installed by the IAEA in order to be considered reliable, and that would involve the same risks to those personnel as to inspectors in dealing with the virus.

IAEA member states should fully support such efforts so that inspections can continue. Though it might require extraordinary efforts by the IAEA and its board of governors, it is in the world’s interest to have the nuclear watchdog continue its verification programs in Iran despite whatever level of hazard the Covid-19 outbreak presents. Failure to do so could have dire consequences.”

An interesting article from Dr. Tariq Rauf – the Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Disarmament, Arms Control, and Non-Proliferation Programme – regarding the impacts of COVID-19 (aka coronavirus) on the upcoming Non-Proliferation Treaty conferences. There is a possibility international travel will be restricted – causing the conferences and associated discussions to be pushed to 2021 and beyond.

Title: Relentless Spread of Coronavirus Obliges Postponing the 2020 NPT Review to 2021
Author: Rauf, Tariq
Publication(s): UN Insider
Date: 2 March 2020
Link: https://www.indepthnews.net/index.php/global-governance/un-insider/3351-relentless-spread-of-coronavirus-obliges-postponing-the-2020-npt-review-to-2021
Notes: Dr. Rauf is additionally a participant in Project Save the World’s podcast and talk-show. Dr. Rauf is featured in Episode 94 “Nuclear Weapons in 2020.” Check it out if you get the chance!

Article Excerpt(s):

“Harvard University epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch in his “very, very rough” estimate (relying on “multiple assumptions piled on top of each other”) has stated that 100 or 200 people were infected in the U.S. a week or so ago. But that is all it would take to widely spread the disease. Lipsitch has predicted that within a year, 40% to 70% of the world’s population could be infected with COVID-19? With the world’s population hovering around 7.5 billion, that translates to some 3 to 5 billion people getting COVID-19 and that perhaps fatalities of 60 to 100 million, according to Lipsitch.

Should unfortunately this worst case prevail, we could have the worst pandemic in human history, even exceeding the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 that killed 50 million people. Under the above scenario, in the United States there could be up to 130 to 230 million cases of COVID-19, with up to 2.5 to 3.5 million fatalities. Obviously, these are the worst “worst case” predictions and likely will not come true, but still an abundance of caution is advisable and unnecessary large conferences and gatherings of people should be avoided. Hence, all the more reason to postpone the 2020 NPT review conference to 2021.”


What is the NPT?

“The NPT is the world’s most widely adhered to multilateral nuclear arms reduction and non-proliferation treaty. It is considered to be a resounding success in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons to five States that have signed the Treaty and to four others that are not bound by it. Mainly as a result of the NPT, some 10% of the electricity generated in the world is by nuclear power reactors contributing to clean energy, and billions of people benefit daily from the applications of nuclear technologies in such areas as medicine, agriculture, water and animal husbandry.

The principal failing of the NPT has been lack of progress towards eliminating nuclear weapons. Despite a half-century having elapsed since the NPT entered into force, as I have written previously, “The grim reality is that more than 14,000 nuclear warheads of the nine nuclear-armed States are deployed at more than 100 locations in 14 States, the dangers of nuclear weapon use are increasing, and there are stocks of nearly 1,400 tonnes (or 1,400,000 kg) of weapon-grade uranium and 500 tonnes (or 500,000 kg) of weapon-usable plutonium good for more than 130,000 nuclear warheads. Remember, it takes 25 kg or less of highly-enriched uranium and 8 kg or less of plutonium for one nuclear warhead.””


“Furthermore, some delegations have been complaining about visa denials by U.S. authorities to attend UN conferences and this year’s session of the UN Disarmament Commission had to be postponed. Costs of hotel accommodation in New York are soaring, as are the costs of food and eating out in restaurants. The expertise for nuclear verification, safety and security, and peaceful uses lies in Vienna (Austria), while that of negotiating multilateral nuclear arms control in Geneva (Switzerland). New York has no diplomatic expertise related to the NPT. Thus, there are no compelling reasons at all to convene the presently scheduled NPT review conference in New York this year.”


“An NPT review conference this year though desirable for meeting the five yearly cycle is not absolutely necessary; rather under the circumstances it poses unacceptable health risks and is a luxury that the international community can ill afford.

The best option is to formally announce the postponement of the 2020 NPT review conference to 2021 with the venue being Vienna, as soon as possible – the earlier the better. The longer this decision is delayed the greater the costs incurred in cancelling flights and hotel rooms – while government and IAEA/CTBTO delegates may well be able to afford such penalties as tax dollars pay for their expenses, for civil society participants the cancellation costs would be onerous and unaffordable as they either self-finance or rely on charitable donations.

For all the reasons noted above, including especially the continuing spread of the COVID-19 virus designated by WHO as a very high global risk, it would not only be inexcusable but also immoral on the part of the UN and the NPT Secretariats to delay any further the announcement of the postponement of the NPT review conference to 2021 and to initiate the logistical preparations for holding it in Vienna next year. “

I am shocked China and other surrounding nations are not implementing stricter travel guidelines right now – given the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations and the newly emerged coronavirus. Is the massive influx of travelers worth the potential of another SARS-like epidemic? Millions of individuals will be arriving to a region with a still emerging infectious disease. Hopefully enough is understood about the new coronavirus to limit its spread during this festive time of year. It must be a difficult finding a balance between cultural tradition and public health.

The World Health Organization is scheduling an emergency meeting (in Geneva) on 22 January 2020 – three days before Chinese New Year. Talk about concerning variables!

Link about the Emergency WHO Meeting: https://www.scmp.com/news/world/europe/article/3046924/china-coronavirus-who-hold-emergency-meeting-sars-virus-spreads

Important news relating to pandemics has been published by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. It says ”
The Global Health Security (GHS) Index, a benchmark assessment of biosecurity preparedness across 195 countries produced by NTI and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, is earning news media attention around the world in the wake of its recent launch. A Washington Post article on the index highlighted its findings and recommendations, and the paper’s editorial board noted that “the world flunked.” The GHS Index also has garnered coverage across 14 countries including reports in the UK’s Daily Mail, Singapore’s The Strait Times , South Africa’s The Herald, and India’s Press Trust of India. ” The title of the article is
GHS Index: Washington Post Calls on Countries to Improve Disease-Response Preparedness as News Coverage Extends from UK to South Korea

Report says deadly pandemic could sweep world in 36 hours – killing millions
New Zealand Herald, 26 Oct, 2019 5:15pm

A major new report has found that the world is not prepared for the next global pandemic.
A review of health care systems already in place across the world found just 13 countries had the resources to put up a fight against an “inevitable” pandemic.
Scientists warned that an outbreak of a flu-like illness could sweep across the planet in 36 hours and kill tens of millions due to our constantly-travelling population.
Among the countries ranked in the top tier were Britain, the US, Australia, Canada, France and Holland.
New Zealand had a lower ranking of “more prepared”, alongside European countries such as Spain, Russia, Italy and Germany.
The majority of African countries were deemed the “least prepared” of all the countries due to poor immunisation .
Given how fast the outbreak is likely to spread, experts warned even top tier nations may struggle to curb the disease.
The report, known as the Global Health Security (GHS) index, was drawn-up by scientists at the Johns Hopkins University Centre for Health Security, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).
In their recommendations, the team said governments invest more money in preparing for such events, and do routine simulation exercises.
They also called for more private investment into countries’ pandemic preparations.
The scientists assessed how countries around the world would deal with an inevitable pandemic, by looking at a range of factors.
A world map shows areas that were most, more and least prepared for a global pandemic. Greenland (in grey) was not studied. Photo / Supplied
Income, border security, health care systems, as well as political, socioeconomic and environmental risk factors that can limit response, were all considered.
The average overall index score was just over 40 out of a possible 100. Scientists say this points “to substantial weaknesses in preparedness”.
But they found that even among the 60 high-income countries assessed, the average score was barely over 50.
Writing in their report, the scientists said: “The Index, which serves as a barometer for global preparedness, is based on a central tenet: a threat anywhere is a threat everywhere.
“Deadly infectious diseases can travel quickly; increased global mobility through air travel means that a disease outbreak in one country can spread across the world in a matter of hours.”
The report comes a month after a group headed by a former World Health Organisation (WHO) chief issued a stark warning that Disease X was on the horizon.
The report, named A World At Risk, said current efforts to prepare for outbreaks in the wake of crises such as Ebola are “grossly insufficient”.
It was headed by Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Norwegian prime minister and director-general of the WHO,
He said in the report: “The threat of a pandemic spreading around the globe is a real one.
“A quick-moving pathogen has the potential to kill tens of millions of people, disrupt economies and destabilise national security.”
The team drew up a map of the world with a list of possible infections which could trigger the hypothetical outbreak.
These were split into “newly emerging” and “re-emerging/resurging”. Among the former were the Ebola, Zika and Nipah viruses, and five types of flu.
And the latter included West Nile virus, antibiotic resistance, measles, acute flaccid myelitis, Yellow fever, Dengue, plague and human monkeypox.
A report last month called A World At Risk listed dozens of illnesses which the experts suggested had the potential to trigger an outbreak which could spiral out of control. Photo / Supplied
The report referenced the damage done by the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and said modern advances in international travel would help the disease spread faster.
A century ago the Spanish flu pandemic infected a third of the world’s population and killed 50 million people.
But more recently an Ebola epidemic in West Africa claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people.
Another outbreak of the deadly virus has killed 2,100 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the fatalities are rising.
Leo Abruzzese, senior global advisor at The Economist Intelligence Unit, who helped compile the report, said the report helped to identify important gaps in global preparedness.
“Without a way of identifying gaps in the system, we’re much more vulnerable than we need to be,” he said.
“The index is specific enough to provide a roadmap for how countries can respond, and gives donors and funders a tool for directing their resources.”
United States – 83.5
United Kingdom – 77.9
Holland – 75.6
Australia – 75.5
Canada – 75.3
Thailand – 73.2
Sweden – 72.1
Denmark – 70.4
South Korea – 70.2
Finland – 68.7
Equatorial Guinea – 16.2
Somalia – 16.6
North Korea – 17.5
São Tomé and Príncipe – 17.7
Marshall Islands – 18.2
Yemen – 18.5
Kiribati – 19.2
Syria – 19.9
Guinea Bissau – 20
Gabon – 20


Interesting and timely article – given developments in the last few months. The site mentions you shared this 5 months ago – back in November 2019 – though COVID-19 did not emerge until December 2019.

“Inaugural Global Health Security Index Identifies Major Gaps in Preparedness for Epidemics, Pandemics”
Nuclear Threat Initiative News, Oct 24, 2019.

Despite growing risks that infectious disease outbreaks can lead to international epidemics and pandemics, national health security is fundamentally weak around the world, and no country is fully prepared to handle a potentially catastrophic outbreak, according to the inaugural Global Health Security (GHS) Index released today.

A joint project from the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health Security, with research by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the GHS Index is the first comprehensive assessment and benchmarking of health security and related capabilities across 195 countries. It finds severe weaknesses in countries’ abilities to prevent, detect, and respond to significant disease outbreaks and recommends that the UN Secretary-General call a heads-of-state-level summit on biological risks by 2021. The average overall 2019 GHS Index Score is 40.2 out of a possible score of 100. Even among the 60 high-income countries assessed, the average score is 51.9.

“The results are alarming: All countries—at all income levels—have major gaps in their capabilities, and they aren’t sufficiently investing in biological preparedness,” NTI Co-Chair and CEO Ernest J. Moniz said today. “The bottom line is that global biological risks are growing—in many cases faster than health systems, security, science, and policy can keep up. We need to ensure that all countries are prepared to respond to these risks.”

“Health security is a collective responsibility.”
NTI Vice President Beth Cameron in The Washington Post

The GHS Index offers findings across six categories; recommendations for health and finance ministers, international organizations, philanthropists, funders, and academics; 195 country profiles, and more. It is available in three formats:
The website, GHSIndex.org, which shows high-level results and country profiles in an easily accessible and interactive format, including score simulators for each country.
The EIU data model in Excel, downloadable through the website.
The print report, which includes findings, recommendations, country profiles, the EIU methodology, a glossary, and more.

Here’s some good news!
UC Davis gets $85 million to lead fight to prevent deadly Asian, African pandemics
By Cathie Anderson, The Sacramento Bee, October 10, 2019

The U.S. Agency for International Development gave the University of California, Davis, an $85 million vote of confidence with a five-year grant to train academic researchers in Asia and Africa in preventing animal diseases from spilling over into human populations, the university announced Wednesday.

Woutrina Smith, the principal investigator at UC Davis, said her team takes the view that humans don’t exist in isolation and that there’s a connection between the health of people, animals and the environment. They call this concept One Health, and medical and veterinary researchers at universities and nongovernmental agencies around the world are adopting it.

“We’ll be working closely with established networks of universities that are already partnering to try and understand how we can work more as a team to be able to understand these spillovers, disease prevention, how what we know about animals feeds over to protecting the health of people and vice versa,” Smith said. “Those are some of the basic ideas of why we’re doing this as a health professional school that has both veterinary and human health represented and bringing the environment in as well.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Medical Association have endorsed the One Health approach since 2008. Smith said UC Davis began 10 to 15 years ago to work collaboratively to promote the health of people and animals in their shared environments.
Explore where you live.

While the UCD-led consortium just secured the grant, Smith said, the university has worked with U.S. AID for 10 years on a $200 million project known as PREDICT to train private-sector experts in Africa and Asia to safely do One Health surveillance in areas where wildlife and humans coexisted.

That capability didn’t exist in many countries on those continents. That’s why Ebola, swine flu and other pandemics caught the world off guard.

“We’ve really established teams in these countries, where we expect new viruses to spill over from animals to people,” Smith said. The teams “are prepared to detect them earlier, respond earlier and contain outbreaks. … The One Health approach has really built the expertise of the in-country teams. They’re now much more able to be of use to their (government) ministries and their universities.”

Smith said more than 6,000 people in 30 countries not only gained marketable skills in disease detection, but also learned how to compete against foreign businesses. In a testament to their success, UC Davis’ One Health Institute reported they found more than 1,000 viruses that pose a public health concern.

UCD continues to work with some of those teams, but it was close to wrapping up work on the PREDICT project when U.S. AID announced it was seeking a team to lead the second phase of the One Health Workforce project. Since PREDICT was almost over, Smith said, the UCD team decided to take on new work.

The team won the grant, beating out a consortium led by the University of Minnesota and Tufts University that led the initial, five-year phase of One Health WorkForce.

“We will continue to look for ways to continue to collaborate with the previous groups because they did a lot of great work,” Smith said. “We would love help that continue. We have reached out to them to explore how that might work.”

UCD’s One Health Institute will work alongside Asian and African academics to design and execute activities such as developing sustainable training programs that will teach current and future professionals the skills and competencies needed to address the complex health challenges of zoonotic diseases.

In some cases, Smith said, the consortium’s team will be working with the same people they worked with on the PREDICT project.

Smith’s consortium includes not only UC Davis colleagues from other academic disciplines but also a range of experts from Columbia University, EcoHealth Alliance, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, Ata Health Strategies, the University of New Mexico and Sandia National Laboratories.

Read more here: https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/health-and-medicine/article235973487.html?fbclid=IwAR2za5XzQVYJmm2tqz50PzF58Z4x1KWzwTRsqvvDRCHxDGxnd3-EeCHXPvU#storylink=cpy

An interesting element to explore in more detail are organisms called bacteriophages. Bacteriophages are viruses that target bacteria rather than other cells. They are a branch of disease treatment which is potentially promising should conventional antibiotic treatments fail. The USSR – particularly Georgia – was considered a “stronghold” for research into phage therapy for decades. Only recently has this research and its application for difficult infections become more popular – beyond individual researchers – in countries outside the former USSR. The USA only opened its first Phage Therapy Research Center in 2018. Interestingly, one source of phages to use in this therapy are water treatment plants – as untreated water is considered a hotspot for undiscovered phages that have potential for medical applications. Application for phages include antibiotic resistant infections, as well as radiation burns where conventional treatments to kill infection may not be as effective. One limitation is the phages are quite species-specific and may only target one or two species of bacteria – so finding the right match is vital for patient care and ensuring effective treatment.

An interesting historical overview of Georgia’s connection to phage therapy is available here: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)66759-1/fulltext

This morning on the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s page there were some posts about how in recent months, swarms of locusts have hit Yemen. For farmers, this is a significant issue. However, for many starving folks – locusts provide a valuable source of calories and protein in a time of national famine. This is the second round of locusts to hit Yemen this year. A stronger than usual wet season – due to regional cyclones – produced a surge in February – with a second one in September.

Some more information is available here: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/09/war-yemen-locusts-welcomed-food-shortage-190908103600764.html and https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/massive-locust-swarm-provides-a-desert-bounty-in-central-yemen-in-pictures-1.878926

In 2015 – in Central Asia – about half of the world’s saiga antelope died in a matter of weeks. This totaled between 134 000 and 200 000 animals (though perhaps more). The culprit was a hemorrhagic septicemia induced by a bacteria (Pasteurella multocida) that is normally found in the respiratory tract of this species. It is unclear what caused the sudden leap in mortality and virulence. A similar incident occurred in 1988 – where 50 000 antelope died within the space of an hour. A research team lead by Dr. Richard Anthony Kock at the Royal Veterinarian Society is investigating intervention measures to prevent another similar incident from unfolding in the future.

Link: https://www.theguardian.com/science/animal-magic/2016/apr/14/mass-death-saiga-antelope-kazakhstan-bacterial-infection

An alarming BBC article about the legacy of the USSR’s Vozrozhdeniya Island – code name Aralsk-7 in the Cold War. Vozrozhdeniya (Rebirth or Renaissance Island) is located in the Aral Sea. It used to be an island with the town of Kantubek – but the retreating Aral Sea has greatly increased its accessibility to adjacent land.

“Aralsk-7 was part of a bioweapons program on an industrial scale.”

BBC Excerpt:

“Now Vozrozhdeniya has swallowed up so much of the sea that it’s swelled to 10 times its original size, and is connected to the mainland by a peninsula. But it is thanks to another Soviet project that it is one of the deadliest places on the planet.

From the 1970s, the island has been implicated in a number of sinister incidents. In 1971, a young scientist fell ill after a research vessel, the Lev Berg, strayed into a brownish haze. Days later, she was diagnosed with smallpox. Mysteriously, she had already been vaccinated against the disease. Though she recovered, the outbreak went on to infect a further nine people back in her hometown, three of whom died. One of these was her younger brother.

A year later, the corpses of two missing fishermen were found nearby, drifting in their boat. It’s thought that they had caught the plague. Not long afterwards, locals started landing whole nets of dead fish. No one knows why. Then in May 1988, 50,000 saiga antelope which had been grazing on a nearby steppe dropped dead – in the space of an hour.”


“In 1988, nine years after an anthrax leak at Compound 19 led to the deaths of at least 105 people, the Soviets finally decided to get rid of their cache. Huge vats of anthrax spores were mixed with bleach and transported the port town of Aralsk, on the shores of the Aral Sea (now 16 miles (25km) inland), where they were loaded onto barges and transported to Vozrozhdeniya. Some 100 to 200 tonnes of anthrax slurry was hastily dumped in pits and forgotten. Most of the time, anthrax bacteria live as spores, an inactive form with extreme survival skills. They’ll shrug off pretty much anything you care to throw at them – from baths of noxious disinfectants to being roasted for up to two minutes at 180C (356F). […] The precise location of the anthrax cache was never disclosed, but as it turns out this wasn’t a problem. The pits were so enormous, they were clearly visible in photos taken from space. Viable spores were found in several soil samples, and the US pledged $6m (£4.6m) for a project to clean the place up.”

This demonstrates not just the alarming nature of biological and chemical weapons – but their legacy across time and place. An additional alarming trend is that the island is a target for scrap metal harvesters – due to the severely reduced agricultural and fishing industry. Vozrozhdeniya Island is a “perfect storm” of intersections of various threats and measures. The island routinely faces massive dust storms, as well. Nick Middleton touched on the island in one of their recent books.

Link: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170926-the-deadly-germ-warfare-island-abandoned-by-the-soviets

Vozrozhdeniya Island.PNG

Tommy Thompson Park in Toronto has had an ongoing epidemic of Newcastle virus in the cormorants since at least 2018. This is alarming as the municipal ward adjacent to Tommy Thompson Park recently approved “backyard chickens” — a program allowing homeowners to keep up to four chickens in their back yards.

Newcastle virus is highly contagious in avian species, with both neurological and respiratory symptoms. Some have compared it to SARS. Newcastle virus has previously jumped to humans via zoonoses, per a few cases in an Israeli poultry processing plant in the 1960s. It is unclear to me whether the MNR in Ontario has investigated such possibilities.


brilliant that Harvard is leading the way in this new inter-disciplinary approach. One Health integrates research from epidemiology, veterinary medicine, pharmacology, and environmental medicine — because our bodies integrate those phenomena too.