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We are nowhere near the end of the pandemic. Delta will not be the last highly transmissible variant. Large unvacci-nated groups and the unchecked spread of the virus around the world raise the prospect of further mutations, possibly evading today’s vaccines, that will create new waves everywhere.
Yet COVID-19 is also a forerunner of more, and possibly worse, pandemics to come. Scientists have repeatedly warned that without greatly strengthened proactive strategies, global health threats will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, and take more lives. Together with the world’s dwindling biodiversity and climate crisis, to which they are inextricably linked, infectious disease threats represent the primary international challenge of our times.
Recognizing this new reality of a pandemic era is not fearmongering but rather prudent public policy and responsible politics. We must organize ourselves on a whole-of-society basis within nations and rethink how we collaborate internationally to mitigate its profound consequences for livelihoods, social cohesion, and global order.
COVID-19’s only benefit has been to put the case beyond doubt. Our collective failure to heed scientific advice and invest in pandemic prevention and preparedness has inflicted a catastrophic toll. Official data put the number of deaths at over 5 million; credible unofficial estimates are a multiple of that number. Many more people have survived serious illness, with long-term consequences for their well-being and nations’ human capital that have yet to be determined. The world has experienced the deepest economic contraction since World War II and a significant rollback in progress in education, poverty eradication, and inclusive development for a large swath of its population. The IMF has projected large cumulative losses in global GDP by 2025, with particular impact on the developing world.