Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine & UK Public Health Rapid Support Team's online course, COVID-19: Tackling the Novel Coronavirus. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 13 secondsSPEAKER 1: First of all, there's no time to lose whatsoever. Just take the West Africa Ebola epidemic in 2014. It took three months to diagnose, to know that there was Ebola, and then it took another nearly six months before WHO declared this a public health emergency of international concern. And in the meantime, the epidemic accumulate and accumulated. And when it comes to contagion, if you intervene early on, you really prevent not only the next generation of cases, but multiple, multiple generations. So that's the first thing. Act early. Secondly, if you're lucky, we have systems that can provide rapid diagnosis, contact tracing, policies, and so on. And when they're in place, you can act far more vigorously and promptly.

Skip to 1 minute and 10 secondsAnd that's not there. And thirdly, I would say transparency. Sharing information.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 secondsSo many lessons have been learned from previous epidemics, because we've got these outbreaks all the time. Let's not forget that. And the most important one, I would say, is at the local level. We can talk about the global response, but it's at the community level that the control, the fight against outbreaks, is won or lost. Secondly, all countries need a decent public health system. What does that mean? It means that any country can diagnose when there is an emerging or reemerging infection. That they know early, so that means a surveillance system, that they have the people to deal with it, professionals, and they have the policies in place and the funding.

Skip to 2 minutes and 9 secondsThat is usually the conclusion of every review of an outbreak, and it's the one that is the least-funded and the least-followed-up. And certainly, globally, I think there we have some good improvements, including also for research. Because one of the breakthroughs after the West Africa epidemic was that CEPI was founded, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness innovation. And why was that founded? It was founded because there is no market incentive to produce vaccines against epidemics like Lassa or Ebola. And now we have a mechanism that proved to be very useful, because CEPI has already issued several contracts to start developing a vaccine against the coronaviruses.

Skip to 3 minutes and 3 secondsThe biggest issue for this current outbreak are the unknowns, the uncertainty. If we will know exactly how transmissible it is, what the incubation period is exactly, how exactly-- what the risk is of spread, that would make a huge difference.

Skip to 3 minutes and 27 secondsThe train is out of the station, and in a growing number of countries there are cases. There are countries that have not reported cases, but not very believable, I would say. And there are the issues that we must make sure that every country is ready to, in the first place, diagnose as soon as possible when someone is infected, and then take all the measures. It means also sharing information, transparency, and doing some research, research that will inform the response. Because this has to be a science-based response, as for every response. And we don't have all the information. The less uncertainty we have, the better we're equipped to deal with this epidemic.

Reflections on the public health response

Professor Peter Piot reflects on the outbreak, discussing lessons learnt in the past, and the priorities for COVID-19 (recorded 21st February 2020).

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

COVID-19: Tackling the Novel Coronavirus

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: