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Planning for the Next Pandemic

Planning for the Next Pandemic

A Global, Interoperable System of Contact Tracing


The list of ways in which human beings have done poorly in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic is long and growing. Of the many shortcomings in our global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our failure to coordinate efforts across geographic areas, within and between countries, ranks near the top of the list. 

Much of the blame can be placed at the feet of national governments. The federal government of the United States, for instance, refused to take full responsibility for the health and well-being of a nation’s people, deferring major decisions to the states in some cases and obscuring the truth in others. Some United States governors and mayors have stepped up in their respective jurisdictions, but they lacked the mechanisms by which to coordinate what states, cities, towns, and regions are doing to stop the spread of disease. Around the world, few true global leaders emerged to address the crisis; the international institutions established to handle this type of work, including the World Health Organization, faced funding cuts when states should have been tripping over one another to fund and support them properly.

We have learned, yet again, that there is no way forward during a pandemic such as the COVID-19 crisis of 2020 without a massive, well-coordinated testing regime plus a system of contact tracing, absent a widely distributed vaccine and prior to herd immunity. To keep people safe while getting everyone back to work and the economy running again, the testing and tracing systems need to work within and across geographic and political boundaries. 

This article is a contribution to the Berkman Klein Center Policy Practice: Digital Pandemic Response. It first appeared in Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, Volume 22, Issue 1, May 2021, pages 5-12. Copyright © 2021 Johns Hopkins University Press. Reposted with permission.

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