‘I still cannot get over it’: 75 years after Japan atomic bombs, a nuclear weapons ban treaty is finally realised



Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Gwyn McClelland, University of New England

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will finally come into force after the 50th country (Honduras) ratified it over the weekend. The treaty will make the development, testing, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons illegal for those countries that have signed it.

This is an extraordinary achievement for those who have suffered the most from these weapons — including the hibakusha (survivors) of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the islanders who lived through nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific.

Since 1956, the hibakusha in Japan, South Korea, Brazil and elsewhere have been some of the most strident campaigners against the use of these weapons. Among them is a group of Japanese Catholics from Nagasaki whom I interviewed as part of my research collecting the oral histories of atomic bomb survivors.

A 92-year-old hibakusha of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 and a brother in a Catholic order, Ozaki Tōmei, explained the significance of the treaty to survivors like him. He was orphaned from the bombing at 17 and never found his mother’s body.

The Germans made tools for war including poisonous gas, which was [eventually] banned […] However, when the USA made an atomic weapon, then they … wanted to try it out. It was a war […] they were human.

And so this is why we say we have to eliminate nuclear weapons […] They said they did it to end the war, but for the people who were struck, it was horrific […] there was no need to use it.

Lanterns with messages of peace are lit on the 75th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing.
DAI KUROKAWA/EPA

Treaty does not have support of nuclear powers

The treaty was adopted at the United Nations in 2017 by a vote of 122 nations in favour, one against and one abstention.

Sixty-nine nations, however, have not signed it, including all of the nuclear powers such as the US, UK, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan and North Korea, as well as NATO member states (apart from the Netherlands who voted against), Japan and Australia.

Since the treaty was adopted, it needed ratification by 50 countries to come into force. This will now happen in 90 days.

Shacks made from scraps of debris from buildings that were leveled in the aftermath of the atomic bomb that was dropped over Nagasaki.
AP

The campaign for the treaty has relied heavily on civil society and organisations such as the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

And from the beginning, it has exposed political fault lines. The United States has been particularly outspoken in its opposition to the treaty, warning last week the treaty “turns back the clock on verification and disarmament and is dangerous” to the 50-year-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).




Read more:
World politics explainer: The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki


The NPT sought to prevent the spread of nuclear arms beyond the five original weapons powers (the US, Russia, China, UK and France). It has been signed by 190 countries, including those five nations.

The head of ICAN, Beatrice Fihn, says the new treaty banning nuclear weapons merely builds on the nonproliferation treaty.

There’s no way you can undermine the nonproliferation treaty by banning nuclear weapons. It’s the end goal of the nonproliferation treaty.

States like Japan and Australia have opposed the treaty on the grounds their security is boosted by the US stockpile of nuclear weapons. Japan’s former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has said the treaty

was created without taking into account the realities of security.

Survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb await emergency medical treatment.
AP

The efforts of hibakusha in advocating for a treaty

Making the bomb illegal turns an old US justification for the weapon on its head. Harry Stimson, the former US war secretary, argued in 1947 the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to compel the Japanese to surrender at the end of the second world war.

The atomic bomb was more than a weapon of terrible destruction; it was a psychological weapon.

The damage from the bombings was colossal. It is unknown how many people were killed, but estimates range from 110,000 (the US army’s toll) to 210,000 (the figure accepted by ICAN and others).




Read more:
Ban the bomb: 70 years on, the nuclear threat looms as large as ever


At the forefront of the campaign to support the nuclear weapons ban treaty have been the voices of hibakusha who experienced the carnage firsthand.

Another Catholic hibakusha, Nakamura Kazutoshi, told me the stockpiling of nuclear weapons enables states to carry out genocide.

In war, we are at a level below animals. Among monkeys, or chimpanzees, there are no animals who would carry out a genocide.

Nakamura Kazutoshi.
Author provided

A third hibakusha, 90-year-old Jōji Fukahori, told me about how he lost his mother and three younger siblings in the Nagasaki bombing.

His younger brother, Kōji, died an excruciating death around a week after the bombing, walking in the hot ash with no shoes and complaining to his brother, “I’m so hot!”

At the site where Fukahori’s brother was exposed, the temperature was about 1,000 degrees Celsius. Fukahori said,

You would have thought everyone would have turned into charcoal.

For Fukahori, the lasting effects of radiation exposure is a major reason why nuclear weapons must be banned. He continued:

the terror of radiation has to be fully communicated … The atomic bomb is unacceptable. I still cannot get over it.

Since 2009, Fukahori has been speaking out at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and on the Peace Boat, a non-governmental organisation that organises cruises where passengers learn about the consequences of using nuclear weapons from hibakusha.

Jōji Fukahori telling his story.

Pressure building on Japan

The Japanese government is now under mounting pressure to ratify the treaty. Major Japanese financial institutions and companies have said they will no longer fund the production of nuclear weapons and nearly a third of all local assemblies have adopted proposals calling on the government to act.

The government, however, has been unmoved. In August, Abe gave a speech at a memorial service in Nagasaki, in which he suggested the effects of the bombings had been overcome.

Seventy-five years ago today, Nagasaki was reduced to ashes, with not a single tree or blade of grass remaining. Yet through the efforts of its citizens, it achieved reconstruction beautifully as we see today. Mindful of this, we again feel strongly that there is no trial that cannot be overcome and feel acutely how precious peace is.

Visitors pray for the atomic bomb victims at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
Koji Ueda/AP

A Japanese atomic researcher, who knows how Fukahori and other hibakusha have not been able to move on, told me Abe’s words don’t go far enough:

Rather than placing a ‘full-stop’ at the end of damages such as this, we have a necessity to make our claim that the damages are not finished.

The nuclear weapons ban treaty offers a moment of hope for all the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still with us after 75 years. It is certainly their hope the ratification of the treaty now moves us one step closer to a world free of nuclear war.




Read more:
Instead of congratulating ICAN on its Nobel Peace Prize, Australia is resisting efforts to ban the bomb


The Conversation


Gwyn McClelland, Lecturer, Japanese Studies, University of New England

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

WHO reform: a call for an early-warning protocol for infectious diseases


Peter Gluckman and Alexander Gillespie, University of Waikato

The World Health Organization (WHO) has come in for its share of criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some faults are the responsibility of the WHO, others were caused by member states, which did not always act as quickly as they should have.

In our opinion, the fundamental problem was that the WHO’s current information sharing, response and organisational structure to deal with infectious diseases that may spread across borders quickly and dangerously is out of date.

We argue the global population deserves a better model — one that delivers information about the risk of emergent infectious diseases faster and in a way that is transparent, verifiable and non-politicised.

Preparing for the next pandemic

More than one million people have died of COVID-19, and that number could double before the pandemic is brought under control.

COVID-19 is not the first pandemic, nor will it be the last. The WHO was also criticised after the 2014 Ebola epidemic.




Read more:
The WHO’s coronavirus inquiry will be more diplomatic than decisive. But Australia should step up in the meantime


Global responses to such threats have precedents dating back to 1851 and the development of stardardised quarantine regulations. The international initiatives that have since followed, punctuated by the formation of leading international bodies such as the WHO in 1946, represent incremental progress. The most recent iteration of work in this area is the International Health Regulations of 2005.

We suggest a new protocol should be added to the WHO. We have drafted a tentative discussion document, which is available upon request, based on the following six broad ideas.




Read more:
The next once-a-century pandemic is coming sooner than you think – but COVID-19 can help us get ready


1. The WHO remains the central decision-making body

We want to strengthen the collection and sharing of information related to infectious diseases, but we believe the WHO must remain the international entity that interprets the material, raises alerts for the global community and organises responses.

Despite retaining the centrality of the WHO, we suggest a new protocol to provide the basis for the independent collection, sharing and transfer of information between countries and with the WHO. Fundamentally, we want the early-warning science to be divorced from the policy responses.

2. Obligation to issue risk warning

A clear and binding legal principle needs to be explicitly written into international law: namely, that there is an obligation to pass on, as quickly as possible, information about a hazardous risk discovered in one country that could be dangerous to others.

The international community first saw this thinking in the 1986 Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, developed after the Chernobyl incident. We believe the same thinking should be carried over to the early notification of infectious disease threats, as they are just as great.

3. Independence in science

We need legally binding rules for the collection and sharing of information related to infectious diseases. These rules must be detailed, but have the capacity to evolve. This principle is already developing, beginning with innovative solutions to problems like regional air pollution, which separates scientists from decision-makers and removes any potential for partisan advice.

The core of this idea needs to be adapted for infectious diseases and placed within its own self-contained protocol. Signatories can then continually refine the scientific needs, whereby scientists can update what information should be collected and shared, so decision-makers can react in good time, with the best and most independent information at their fingertips.

4. Objectivity and openness

We must articulate the principle that shared scientific information should be as comprehensive, objective, open and transparent as possible. We have borrowed this idea from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) but it needs to be supplemented by the particular requirement to tackle emergent infectious disease risks.

This may include clinical and genetic information and the sharing of biological samples to allow rapid laboratory, medical and public health developments. Incomplete information should not be a reason to delay and all information should be open source. It will also be important to add a principle from international environmental law of acting in a precautionary manner.

In the case of early notification about infectious diseases, we contend that even if there is a lack of scientific certainty over an issue, it is not a reason to hold back from sharing the information.

5. Deployment to other countries

We realise information sometimes needs to be verified independently and quickly. Our thinking here has been guided by the Chemical Weapons Convention and the use of challenge inspections. This mechanism, in times of urgency, allows inspectors to go anywhere at any time, without the right of refusal, to provide independent third-party verification.

In the case of infectious diseases, a solution might be that in times of urgency, if 75% of the members of the new protocol agree, specialist teams are deployed quickly to any country to examine all areas (except military spaces) from where further information is required. This information would then be quickly fed back into the mechanisms of the protocol.

6. Autonomy and independent funding

We suggest such a protocol must be self-governing and largely separate from the WHO, and it is essential it has its own budget and office.

This will increase the autonomy of the early-warning system and reduce the risks of being reliant on the WHO for funding (with all the vagaries that entails). If well designed, the protocol should provide a better way for state and non-state actors to contribute.

The goodwill and financial capacity of international philanthropy, transnational corporations and civil society will need to be mobilised to a much greater degree to fund the new protocol.


The authors worked with Sir Jim McLay, whose leadership contribution and input on the proposed protocol has been integral to the project.The Conversation

Peter Gluckman, Director of Koi Tū, the Centre for Informed Futures; former Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of New Zealand and Alexander Gillespie, Professor of Law, University of Waikato

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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‘Our own 1945 moment’. What do rising China-US tensions mean for the UN?



Eskinder Sebebe/ UN Photo

Melissa Conley Tyler, University of Melbourne

As the General Assembly’s 75th session wraps up on Wednesday, it’s been a dramatic time at the United Nations.

Usually, this is the time of year when world leaders come to New York to mingle and mix. There were also great plans for the UN’s 75th anniversary celebrations.

Instead, due to COVID, we saw most leaders address the assembly by video link.

The session also opened with UN Secretary-General António Guterres warning, “today, we face our own 1945 moment”, speaking not just of COVID-19 but “the world of challenges to come”.

China vs US on the global stage

Guterres specifically spoke of his fear of a “great fracture” between the US and China. This was quickly on display as the US and Chinese leaders delivered contrasting speeches.

United States President Donald Trump used his address to blame China for coronavirus, calling it, “the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world”.

US President Donald Trump addressing the UN in a video message.
US President Donald Trump once again referred to COVID-19 as the ‘China virus’ in his UN remarks.
Rick Bajornas/UN Photo

China’s President Xi Jinping tried for a more inclusive tone, with his comments framed in support of multilateralism.

We should see each other as members of the same big family, pursue win-win cooperation, and rise above ideological disputes.

We have been here before

The good news is, the UN has weathered dramatic moments and challenges before.

Indeed, in the history of fiery UN speeches, Trump’s tirade — largely aimed at the US audience — wouldn’t rate that highly.

In 1960, USSR General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev called a Philippine delegate a “toady of American imperialism” and famously brandished (but did not bang) his shoe.




Read more:
UN general assembly: why virtual meetings make it hard for diplomats to trust each other


In 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called then US President George W Bush “the devil” and complained of the smell of sulphur. There was also a mass walkout in 2011, during Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s attack on Western “slave masters and colonial powers”.

What does the UN actually do?

When considering the future of the UN, we also need to think about what it is there for.

The role of the UN is to provide a space for countries which often don’t agree to take limited collective action. The UN’s main bodies include the General Assembly, with a seat for each member country, and the smaller Security Council for responding to threats to peace and security.

Alongside these are a range of specialised agencies that do mostly non-controversial work. These include the International Civil Aviation Organization, World Meteorological Organization, UNICEF and the World Food Programme.




Read more:
UN: political missions are gradually replacing peacekeeping – why that’s dangerous


Countries approach the various parts of the UN differently. They use the bully pit of the General Assembly for rhetoric and bombast but cooperate in the Security Council, where it’s in their interests. For the most part, they let specialised agencies get on with their practical work.

During the Cold War, debate in the General Assembly was heated and the Security Council could not act due to the Soviet and US veto. But the UN survived.

As many, including former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have noted, “if [the UN] didn’t exist, we would invent it”.

Expectations are key

The key to understanding the UN is having realistic expectations. At the height of the Cold War, then UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld famously said,

[The UN] was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.

What the UN can do, even when key members are at loggerheads, is keep the basics of international cooperation going. It has shown great resilience, even during the height of the Cold War, progressing important issues such as decolonisation, arms control, peacekeeping, racial discrimination and the rights of the child.

Sometimes members countries decide the UN should take a lead role on an issue, such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

At other times, they don’t. For example, COVID-19 has seen individual national responses more than coordinated action. But the continuing existence of mechanisms for information-sharing, like the World Health Organization, remains important.

What happens next?

What are we likely to see at the UN from now on?

We can safely assume there will be more combative rhetoric. The US and China didn’t have brilliant relations before this meeting and it is likely things will continue to deteriorate.

Chinese President Xi Jinping addressing the UN by video.
China wants more influence at the UN.
Mary Altaffer/AP

International organisations will be one of the many battlegrounds for China-US competition, where they will take different approaches.

Trump’s speech last week exemplifies the US turn away from multilateralism. During his administration, the US has withdrawn from the UN Human Rights Council, World Health Organization, the Paris Agreement on climate change and UNESCO (for the second time). If Joe Biden wins the presidential election in November, this may moderate the US approach, but American exceptionalism runs deep.

In contrast, China doesn’t question the legitimacy of the UN as the peak universal institution. Its approach is to redefine the UN’s conception of world order to its liking and to push for more influence within it.

Neither strategy is necessarily welcomed by other members. As International Crisis Group’s UN director Richard Gowan observes,

a lot of the UN’s members think the US is destructive and China is power-hungry. They don’t find either very appealing.

The UN’s job is to keep China and the US talking

In Guterres’ address this week, he warned the world cannot afford a future where “the two largest economies split the globe in a great fracture” — each with their own trade, financial rules, internet and artificial intelligence capacities.

Donald Trump talks to Xi Jinping with arms outstretched
The UN’s general secretary has warned of a ‘great fracture’ between China and the US.
Alex Brandon/AP

Make no mistake, the conflict between China and the US is a significant challenge for the UN. But it has 75 years’ of experience to handle it.

It now has to work to keep two contending great powers engaged in the international system, while progressing its mission to promote peace, dignity and equality on a healthy planet — at least as much as its members allow.

Maybe it’s always a 1945 moment.The Conversation

Melissa Conley Tyler, Research Fellow, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Global report gives Australia an A for coronavirus response but a D on climate


John Thwaites, Monash University

The global Sustainable Development Report 2020, released this week in New York, ranks Australia third among OECD countries for the effectiveness of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, beaten by only South Korea and Latvia.

Yet Australia trundled in at 37th in the world on its overall progress in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which cover a range of economic, social and environmental challenges – many of which will be crucial considerations as we recover from the pandemic. Australia’s worst results are in climate action and the environment, where we rate well below most other OECD countries.




Read more:
4 ways Australia’s coronavirus response was a triumph, and 4 ways it fell short


South Korea tops the list of effective COVID-19 responses, whereas New Zealand (which declared the coronavirus eliminated on June 8, albeit with a few sporadic cases since) is ranked ninth. Meanwhile, the United States, United Kingdom and several other Western European countries rank at the bottom of the list.

Nations’ COVID-19 responses, ranked by the UN.
United Nations, Author provided

South Korea, Latvia and Australia did well because they not only kept infection and death rates low, but did so with less economic and social disruption than other nations. Rather than having to resort to severe lockdowns, they did this by testing and tracing, encouraging community behaviour change, and quarantining people arriving from overseas.

Using smartphone data from Google, the report shows that during the severe lockdown in Spain and Italy between March and May this year, mobility within the community – including visits to shops and work – declined by 62% and 60%, respectively. This shows how much these countries were struggling to keep the virus at bay. In contrast, mobility declined by less than 25% in Australia and by only 10% in South Korea.

Australia outperformed the OECD average on COVID-19 reponse.
Author provided

Why has Australia performed well?

There are several reasons why Australia’s COVID-19 response has been strong, although major challenges remain. National and state governments have followed expert scientific advice from early in the pandemic.

The creation of the National Cabinet fostered relatively harmonious decision-making between the Commonwealth and the states. Australia has a strong public health system and the Australian public has a history of successfully embracing behaviour change. We have shown admirable adaptability and innovation, for example in the radical expansion of telehealth.

We should learn from these successes. The Sustainable Development Goals provide a useful framework for planning to “build back better”.




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Business leaders aren’t backing up their promises on sustainable development goals


The Sustainable Development Goals, agreed by all countries in 2015, encompass a set of 17 goals and 169 targets to be met by 2030. Among the central aims are economic prosperity, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. They are arguably even more important than before in considering how best to shape our post-pandemic world.

As the report points out, the fallout from COVID-19 is likely to have a highly negative impact on achievement of many of the goals: increased poverty due to job losses (goal 1), disease, death and mental health risks (goal 3), disproportionate economic impacts on women and domestic violence (goal 5), loss of jobs and business closures (goal 8), growing inequality (goal 10), and reduction in use of public transport (goal 11). The impact on the environmental goals is still unclear: the short-term reduction in global greenhouse emissions is accompanied by pressure to reduce environmental safeguards in the name of economic recovery.

How do we ‘build back better’?

The SDGs already give us a roadmap, so really we just need to keep our sights set firmly on the targets agreed for 2030. Before COVID-19, the world was making progress towards achieving the goals. The percentage of people living in extreme poverty fell from 10% in 2015 to 8.6% in 2018. Access to basic transport infrastructure and broadband have been growing rapidly in most parts of the world.

Australia’s story is less positive, however. On a composite index of performance on 115 indicators covering all 17 goals, the report puts Australia 37th in the world, but well behind most of the countries to which we like to compare ourselves. Sweden, Denmark and Finland top the overall rankings, followed by France and Germany. New Zealand is 16th.

It is not surprising, in light of our performance during the pandemic, that Australia’s strongest performance is on goal 3: good health. The report rates Australia as on track to achieve all health targets.




Read more:
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Australia also performs strongly on education (goal 4), and moderately well on goals relating to water, economic growth, infrastructure and sustainable cities. However, we perform extremely poorly in energy (goal 7), climate change (goal 13) and responsible consumption and production (goal 12), where our reliance on fossil fuels and wasteful business practices puts us near the bottom of the field.

On clean energy (goal 7), the share of renewable energy in total primary energy supply (including electricity, transport and industry) is only 6.9%. In Germany it is 14.1%, and in Denmark an impressive 33.4%.

Australia rates poorly on goal 12, responsible consumption and production, with 23.6kg of electronic waste per person and high sulfur dioxide and nitrogen emissions.

Australia’s performance on goal 13, climate action, is a clear fail. Our annual energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are 14.8 tonnes per person – much higher than the 5.5 tonnes for the average Brit, and 4.3 tonnes for the typical Swede.




Read more:
Climate action is the key to Australia achieving the Sustainable Development Goals


And whereas in the Nordic countries the indicators for goal 15 — biodiversity and life on land — are generally improving, the Red List measuring species survival is getting worse in Australia.

There are many countries that consider themselves world leaders but now wish they had taken earlier and stronger action against COVID-19. Australia listened to the experts, took prompt action, and can hopefully look back on the pandemic with few regrets.

But on current form, there will be plenty to regret about our reluctance to follow scientific advice on climate change and environmental degradation, and our refusal to show anything like the necessary urgency.


The original version of this article reported that New Zealand was ranked sixth for its coronavirus response. It was in fact ranked ninth. This has been corrected.The Conversation

John Thwaites, Chair, Monash Sustainable Development Institute & ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Yes, we need a global coronavirus inquiry, but not for petty political point-scoring



Rey Moon/Shutterstock

Paul Komesaroff, Monash University; Ian Kerridge, University of Sydney, and Ross Upshur, University of Toronto

The US government’s call for an international inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic has a clear political motive: to shift the blame for its own failure to respond effectively to the epidemic within its own borders.

The finger-pointing by the Trump administration, and by US allies including Australia, has prompted China to refuse to cooperate.

This is unfortunate, because it is in everyone’s interest to work together, not to question China’s handling of the crisis but to discover the factors that cause new infections so we can avert future disasters.




Read more:
Murky origins: why China will never welcome a global inquiry into the source of COVID-19


We need to understand how SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, came into existence, and to look at how and when we might have been able to impede its progress.

This means examining the origins of the virus and the biological and environmental factors that allowed it to become so dangerous. To achieve this, an international, collaborative scientific investigation free from recriminations and narrow political agendas is needed.

What we know so far

Extensive scientific data have shown that SARS-CoV-2 was not deliberately engineered and there was no conspiracy to create an epidemic. It did not originate in or escape from a laboratory, in Wuhan or anywhere. The first human cases of COVID-19 did not come from the Wuhan wet market but from elsewhere in China, possibly outside Hubei province altogether.

In fact, the disease did not “originate” in a market at all, although an important spreading event linked to the Wuhan market did occur that brought it to the attention of Chinese public health authorities.

SARS-CoV-2 almost certainly descended from an animal virus that underwent a series of mutations that made it dangerous to humans. The path to humans probably involved intermediate animal hosts, although which animals remains uncertain.

So here is the most likely sequence of events: a coronavirus in a bat found its way into one or more other animal hosts, possibly including a pangolin or some kind of cat, somewhere in southern China. At that time, the virus could not infect or cause noticeable disease in humans, or else the animals infected had little contact with humans. Over an unknown period of time (possibly decades) the virus mutated in a way that made it highly dangerous and eventually, by chance, a human became infected, probably in about the second week of November 2019.

The new virus was quickly passed on to other people and found its way to Hubei province. On December 10, an infected individual visited the crowded market in Wuhan and was responsible for infecting 21 other people. Over the following two weeks, enough people became sick to alert doctors and public health officials, leading to an announcement on December 31 warning the world of the dangerous new disease. The market was closed the following day and vigorous efforts were made to identify and isolate contacts.

Three weeks later it was clear these measures could not contain the epidemic, and on January 23 Chinese authorities took the brave and unprecedented step of locking down the entire city. This controlled the spread of the virus in China, but it was too late to stop the spread internationally, because by that time the virus was already present in Taiwan, South Korea, Europe and the United States.

What we don’t know yet

What we now have to find out is what happened in the months or years leading up to November 2019 and whether, in retrospect, anything could have been done to prevent the disaster.

It is crucial we understand the evolution of this virus because, as with all human diseases that emerge from animals, it will have occurred as a result of both random biological events and responses to environmental pressures. The virus had to mutate, the original wild animal had to be exposed to other species, and the virus had to spread within that species and undergo further mutations. The animal had to come into close contact with a human who, at the right moment, has to contract the new infection.




Read more:
How do viruses mutate and jump species? And why are ‘spillovers’ becoming more common?


Despite the low probability of each individual step, in recent decades a long list of viruses has negotiated this entire pathway, including HIV, SARS, MERS, Ebola, Nipah, Lassa, Zika, Hendra, various types of influenza, and now SARS-CoV-2. This suggests new factors are increasing the chances of exposure, adaptation, infection and spread.

It is likely these factors include population growth, agricultural expansion, the loss of natural wild animal habitat, the loss of traditional food sources, and changing relationships between animal species and between animals and humans. Deforestation and climate change further exacerbate this process, as does increased movement of human populations, through domestic and international travel. The international illegal wildlife trade, inappropriate use of drugs and insecticides, and reluctance of governments to work together make matters even worse.

Knowing exactly how these factors affect the genetics and evolution of viruses will help us find ways to thwart them. We could develop a coordinated early warning system to identify and track potentially dangerous pathogens, and monitor interactions between species that could transmit them. We could preserve native habitats and reduce the pressure on wild animals to enter human habitats in search of food. We could strategically cull animals that act as reservoirs for dangerous viruses.

We could precisely target infection control procedures such as health monitoring and quarantine. We could work together to develop diagnostic tests, new drugs and vaccines. We could develop globally coordinated rapid response plans for when new outbreaks arise.




Read more:
Coronavirus shines a light on fractured global politics at a time when cohesion and leadership are vital


This process will only work if undertaken with openness, trust, and an acknowledgement that it is in the entire world’s best interest. It will only work if we accept that viruses are not national problems or sovereign responsibilities, but global challenges.

COVID-19 should be a wake-up call that petty recriminations, ideological rivalries and short-sighted political ambitions must be set aside. The countries of the world must encourage China and the United States to raise their sights to the greater challenge and help conduct the investigation we need to avert future disaster.

It is urgent, because the next pandemic may already be incubating somewhere in the world at this very moment.The Conversation

Paul Komesaroff, Professor of Medicine, Monash University; Ian Kerridge, Professor of Bioethics & Medicine, Sydney Health Ethics, Haematologist/BMT Physician, Royal North Shore Hospital and Director, Praxis Australia, University of Sydney, and Ross Upshur, Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus Update: International


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