Singapore’s Tharman Shanmugaratnam on the next pandemic after Covid

SINGAPORE – The next global pandemic could come at any time and the world must prepare for it now, said Singapore Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

“We do not have the luxury of waiting for the end of Covid before we prepare for the next pandemic, because the next pandemic can come at any time,” Tharman told CNBC’s Annette Weisbach at the G-20 summit in Italy.

“So we have to use our current efforts to fight Covid to also build the necessary capacities to fight off the next pandemic,” he added.

The World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 outbreak a global pandemic in March last year. The coronavirus – first discovered in China in late 2019 – has infected more than 186 million people and caused at least 4 million deaths worldwide, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

A G-20 panel of global experts released a report on Friday suggesting measures to prevent outbreaks and respond quickly to a future pandemic. Tharman chairs the committee with former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and World Trade Organization Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The measures include “better and more reliable funding” for the World Health Organization, as well as tapping into multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to fund the fight against a pandemic, Tharman said.

He added that the current international system for responding to a global pandemic was “fragmented” and “underfunded”. To fill this gap, the panel proposed setting up a new global fund with at least $ 10 billion a year, the Singapore minister said.

“What is missing in the global system today, you have a health administration under the World Health Assembly and WHO, you do not have a system that brings finance and health together,” Tharman said.

“And that’s why the system is underfunded. It reacts after the event after a crisis has broken out and cannot proactively avert future crises,” he added.

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