Divided, we will fail. No part of the world has been spared Covid-19 and it requires coordinated action to resolve it. The United States can prevent coronavirus only if the virus is also under control in the rest of the world. Thinking in terms of individual nations or narrow political allegiances prolongs the crisis and deepens the impact on each country and community.
No one wants movement restrictions to last longer than necessary. But although we are dependent on blockages and social distancing to slow the virus down and save us time, they are not enough to stop this pandemic. There will be second and third waves; this can become a threat that we have to live our whole life. Without any solution, it would devastate our health and our savings. The UK, where Covid-19 is poised to have the biggest impact in Europe, may see a 35% drop in GDP.
Today’s meeting of G20 health ministers is a welcome opportunity to present a united front and make positive commitments. Throwing health and economic security against each other should not be an issue – each is essential for the other.
The only way to end a pandemic and have confidence in the facilitation of blockages is to use three essential tools: testing, treatment and vaccines. Rapid diagnostic tests so that we can track the virus, isolate those infected and protect the vulnerable. Medicines that save lives and reduce the severity and impact of the disease on our health systems. And vaccines to protect people and prevent transmission.
Without these tools, we risk a continuous cycle of closures and distancing as epidemics ebb and flow around the world for months, if not years, to come.
These tools will only come from scientific research and innovation. Just 100 days after the virus genome has been sequenced, clinical trials are already testing well over 100 vaccines and potential drugs. But even if researchers around the world pool their resources and ideas to advance science as quickly as possible, huge international investment will be needed to turn their discoveries into practical global solutions.
At present, there is an urgent and immediate funding gap of $ 8 billion (£ 6.4 billion). If obtained from governments and private sector donations over the next few weeks, this money can help reach the scale of research and development we need. Processes that generally take years can start in a coordinated fashion and quickly generate global solutions to the pandemic. Any delay means missed opportunities, wasted time and money, more lives lost.
Many people have spoken of the unprecedented nature of this global emergency. Our response must also be unprecedented. Supported by the international community, the World Health Organization has led the eradication of smallpox, the internationally coordinated use of polio vaccines and many others – but these achievements have all taken decades of efforts.
Now we need to unite and implement a comprehensive solution to Covid-19. More will be needed to ensure that no matter where they are developed, all tests, treatments and vaccines are available to everyone around the world who need them and at an affordable price. As long as Covid-19 is out of control somewhere, it’s a threat to all of us.
Science is the exit strategy, but as the European Commission has recognized with its pledging conference, it will take a monumental global effort to combat this virus. Governments, businesses and organizations throughout society, many of which are generally not involved in public health, must play essential roles.
We cannot afford to pay more attention to our geographic, social and political boundaries than the virus. Every nation in the world has a duty to support our international coordinating bodies, such as the WHO, and to work together to find a way out of this crisis.
• Jeremy Farrar is director of the Wellcome Trust