For most of us around the world, our way of life has significantly changed in the last few weeks. Although America is only recently being confronted with the global reality that is the current coronavirus pandemic, with more than 82,000 U.S. citizens infected it now has more confirmed cases than Italy, and even China, where the outbreak first emerged.
"As the number of known cases reached into the hundreds, then the thousands, then the tens of thousands, life across the country has changed in swift, profound ways," the New York Times reports alongside an updated map with numbers of infections per county across the country.
As the evolving coronavirus situation continues to keep us on edge, many industry leaders in virology, health care, technology, and the intelligence community say they were aware that such a pandemic was not only possible but that it was just a matter of time.
Business magnate and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has been talking about the threat of future pandemics for years. Back in 2015, as concerns about the possible outbreak of Ebola were still fresh on our minds, he was looking ahead at the possibility that a future outbreak could indeed be far worse.
"As awful as this epidemic has been, the next one could be much worse," Gates wrote about a TEDx talk he gave in 2015. "The world is simply not prepared to deal with a disease—an especially virulent flu, for example—that infects large numbers of people very quickly. Of all the things that could kill 10 million people or more, by far the most likely is an epidemic."
It was recently reported that Gates also advised President Trump on pandemic preparedness two years ago, saying that "The president was kind enough to spend time with me, and one of the issues I brought up is this opportunity to build new tools that would help us deal with a pandemic."
Gates isn't the only person who had been expressing such concerns.
In his recent book Flu Hunter: Unlocking the secrets of a virus, Virologist Robert G. Webster, an authority on avian flu, said in December that the next pandemic was "just a matter of time."
Webster's thoughts on such an imminent threat are prescient, to say the least:
"It is sobering to realise that, after nearly 100 years of studying the 1918 influenza, we still do not know precisely why the virus was such a killer; nor are we significantly better prepared to deal with a repeat event.
"Nature will eventually again challenge mankind with an equivalent of the 1918 influenza virus. We need to be prepared."
A particularly sobering view was offered by
Jeremy Konyndyk, former director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance under USAID, in a Politico article from 2017, where he noted that every U.S. President since Ronald Reagan has faced a similar health crisis:
"A major new global health crisis is a question of when, not if. Every president dating back at least to Ronald Reagan has dealt with major and unexpected outbreaks—HIV/AIDS, SARS, bird flu, Ebola, Zika. In recent years the world has been fortunate that these outbreaks have been either highly contagious (the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic infected up to 200 million people), or highly fatal (the H5N1 “bird flu” strain had a fatality rate of up to 60 percent)—but not both at once."
However, it was what Konyndyk had to say about a future pandemic that was particularly sobering.
"At some point a highly fatal, highly contagious virus will emerge," Konyndyk said, "like the 1918 'Spanish flu' pandemic, which infected one third of the world’s population and killed between 50 and 100 million people."
The present coronavirus pandemic was also no surprise to the U.S. intelligence community.
“We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease," a 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment stated, "that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.”
The potential threat of such a virus has been an item of speculation and future forecasts for far longer than just the last decade, as other recent MU articles have suggested. Many have even pointed out that in a 2008 book, the late psychic Sylvia Browne wrote that "In around 2020 a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and the bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatments."
It cannot be denied that Browne made such a prediction, although some take issue with the accuracy of the forecast, as Benjamin Radford recently noted:
Covid-19 is not “a severe pneumonia-like illness” (though it can in some cases lead to pneumonia)... Browne also says the disease she’s describing “resists all known treatments.” This does not describe Covid-19; in fact, doctors know how to treat the disease—it’s essentially the same for influenza or other similar respiratory infections.
However, the more fundamental takeaway here is that it didn't require any psychic powers to see the threat potential of a future virus outbreak the likes of COVID-19. Experts from multiple areas of government and industry had warned us about it. Now that these concerns have become a reality, it is time to take action, and realize that things could certainly get worse before they get better.
Nonetheless, as with past pandemics like the 1918 Spanish Flu, it is also important to know that we, as humans, will get through this. We always do, and we should never underestimate human resilience in the face of a threat, no matter how bad things may be capable of getting. That, too, is important to remember in trying times like these.