The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security published this month the “lessons” learned from a pandemic simulation exercise it co-hosted with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The tabletop simulation, named Catastrophic Contagion, took place on October 23rd and was attended by Bill Gates himself along with 13 other participants, including senior public health officials from Senegal, Rwanda, Nigeria, Angola, Liberia, Singapore, India and Germany.
Participants had to react to a fictional pandemic set in the future which originated in a certain point of the globe and spread around the world. Unlike COVID-19, which in the main was not a threat to children and young people, Catastrophic Contagion engineered a pandemic that was more lethal and targeted those populations specifically.
The event drew similarities to the now-infamous Event 201, a pandemic simulation exercise in October 2019 co-hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Economic Forum. The “fictional” pandemic presented for Event 201 exactly outlined the COVID-19 pandemic — down to the very name — though differed mainly in the origin of the virus. The virus was first identified two months later in Wuhan, China.
Among the lessons from the Catastrophic Contagion exercise was that there is a need for a single worldwide network of public health authorities tell political leaders what actions should be taken during the next pandemic.
One of those actions should be censorship, codenamed “reducing misinformation,” according to the event’s co-hosts.
“Countries should prioritize efforts to increase trust in government and public health; improve public health communication efforts; increase the resiliency of populations to misleading information; and reduce the spread of harmful misinformation,” says the event’s website.
The site notes that it is not enough to only spread the correct information, and “we should not expect it alone to combat or put a stop to the spread of this mis- and disinformation.”
Instead, countries should pass laws about misinformation.
“Countries need to collaborate to anticipate that threat and prepare to combat it with their own laws and procedures. Just as many types of economic and societal harms can be anticipated and accounted for in pandemic preparedness plans, so too can predictable false or misleading health messaging. Concertedly exploring ways to address this phenomenon on a national level in advance of the next pandemic will be crucial to saving lives.”
During the exercise, the group “wrestled” with whether to re-introduce lockdowns and school closures “to try to contain a serious new epidemic that was disproportionately affecting children.”