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Health experts urge stepping up preparedness for outbreaks

By Wang Xiaoyu | | Updated: 2023-10-25 15:35
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Health experts called on Wednesday for stepping up preparedness for future public health threats, especially coronaviruses and other viruses that can cause respiratory illnesses.

Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, former director-general of the World Health Organization and dean of Tsinghua University's Vanke School of Public Health, said that while the world has entered a post-COVID-19 pandemic era, a series of challenges lay ahead for humankind such as a rapidly aging society, climate change, the growing risks of a global economic downturn and an unstable international situation.

In early May, the WHO declared that COVID-19 was no longer a global health emergency.

"There is bound to be another pandemic in the future, but when and how it will occur is unknown," she said. "All countries should attach great significance to pandemic response and preparedness, and reflect on experiences in coping with past outbreaks.

She made the comment during a news conference in Beijing ahead of the Third World Health Forum. The forum will be held at the Vanke School of Public Health in Beijing from Nov 4 to 5, with a focus on responses to pandemics and related challenges.

Liang Wannian, executive vice-dean of the school, said that the COVID-19 virus is still circulating. However, greater knowledge of the virus and its variations, increased capacity of healthcare systems, experience in implementing social interventions, such as mask wearing mandates, along with social distancing requirements meant that COVID-19 no long constitutes a major public health emergency.

It is vital to step up preparedness for potential infectious disease epidemics in the future, however, especially those triggered by contagious respiratory viruses, he said.

"The key priority would be preventing and dealing with respiratory diseases that can be transmitted through" small respiratory particles and droplets, he said.

Special attention should also be paid to the family of coronaviruses. Currently, there are seven coronaviruses that can infect people, including the viruses that cause COVID-19, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and Middle East respiratory syndrome.

Development of vaccines, drugs diagnostic and testing tools for these viruses can be done in advance to increase preparedness, he said.

The forum aims to help improve regional and global public health systems through various aspects, such as boosting public health awareness, enhancing basic research and applications of major contagious diseases, stepping up surveillance, early warning and interventions for emerging infectious diseases, and global coordination for handling pandemics, Liang said.

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