Overview: Pandemics

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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)

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Adam Wynne

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… Read more »

Adam Wynne

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… Read more »

Adam Wynne

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… Read more »

Adam Wynne

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… Read more »

Adam Wynne

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… Read more »

Adam Wynne

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.

Adam Wynne

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… Read more »

Adam Wynne

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… Read more »

Adam Wynne

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.… Read more »

Adam Wynne

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)… Read more »

Adele Buckley

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… Read more »

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… Read more »

Adam Wynne

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… Read more »