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Photographer: Joel Saget/AFP

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The next virus to jump from animals to humans could be far deadlier.

Humanity was relatively lucky this time: Covid-19 has a so-called attack ratehe probability of at-risk individuals falling illof no more than 3%. What percentage of the population could the most virulent virus infect? Up to 100%, said Wang Linfa, director of the Program in Emerging Infectious Diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.

On the final day of this year’s all-digital Bloomberg New Economy Forum, three virus hunters sat down to game out the worst-case scenarios. This years coronavirus pandemic, even with its 1.3 million dead and counting, was not one of them.

Wu Zunyou,
Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said access to healthcare must be improved to fight the next pandemic.

There’s a crazy irony here: the human species could be eradicated by a virus lurking in a cave full of bats, yet the world spends almost nothing tracking down these pathogens. Virus hunters are a small, underpaid and overworked group who spend decades in those caves. Will Covid-19 be a wake-up call? The global economy has been struck by SARS and MERS and bird flu. Around 30 million people have died of HIV-related causes. Yet we are always unprepared for the next viral contagion.

What was encouraging after four days of deliberations at this year’s Forummore than 20 hours of panels broadcast live on Bloomberg TV and, plus 20 hours of private breakout discussionswas that in a deeply divided world, there is still broad agreement across business and government about the biggest problems facing humanity.

For instance, there was an overwhelming consensus that the economic recovery from the pandemic must be led by green investments. Almost everybody agreed that financial systems must be rewired to support the real economy of small businesses rather than Wall Street traders. Nobody pushed back against the idea that the world must lavish more funding on public health.

Fast Company Innovation Festival 2016 - Melinda Gates & Facebook's Regina Dugan
Regina Dugan, CEO of Wellcome Leap, predicted Covid-19 would galvanize a massive global investment in health.

One concern, however, is that our collective preparedness to fund solutions is out of all proportion to the threat. The climbing global death toll, the trillions of dollars in economic losses, the tens of millions of people plunged back into poverty might have been avoided with relatively modest investments in scientific research, vaccine development and medical stockpiles. Its almost as though humanity has a death wish.

How do we back away from the abyss? A good start would be the international community tripling its contributions to the World Health Organization, which currently has the budget of a large U.S. hospital. If you had a blank check, what would you spend it on? We put that question to speakers Thursday, which was Health Day the New Economy Forum.

“I would spend it on building manufacturing capacity for vaccines,” said Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, which is finishing its evaluation of a potential Covid-19 vaccine. “I would spend it to make sure we had all the right surveillance systems so that we can get to those viruses very quickly,” he said.

Key Speakers and Interviews at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum
Kevin Sneader, global managing partner at McKinsey, says that for each dollar invested in healthcare, there are $2 to $4 dollars in economic benefits.

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, focused on “making sure people who need it have access to the public health service.”

On an optimistic note, Regina Dugan, CEO of Wellcome Leap, predicted Covid-19 would galvanize a massive global investment in health. “This is the Sputnik moment of our generation,” she said. 

Kevin Sneader, the global managing partner of McKinsey, pointed out that the math makes sense, too. For each dollar invested in healthcare, he said, there are $2 to $4 dollars in economic benefits. —Andrew Browne and Katharine Gemmell

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IMF Chief Georgieva Says Latest Coronavirus Surge Is Slowing Global Economic Recovery

Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said during the fourth and final day of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum that the latest surge of coronavirus infections is “slowing down the recovery; it is losing momentum.” She urged world leaders to redouble their efforts.

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