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COVID-19: a moment of reckoning for the World Health Organization

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is seen on a screen of pc with a WHO coronavirus cases map displayed on a smartphone
Where next for the WHO? SOPA Images Limited / Alamy Stock Photo

This is a transcript of episode six of The Conversation Weekly podcast “COVID-19: where does the World Health Organization go from here?”. In this episode, three experts in global health explain why COVID-19 has been a moment of reckoning for the World Health Organization (WHO), and where it goes from here. And to mark one year since the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, we hear from Conversation editors around the world on the situation where they live.

NOTE: Transcripts may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Gemma: It’s been a year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. In this week’s episode, we’ll be looking at how the WHO has responded over the past year, and where it goes from here.

Ana Amaya: We’re in a strange time where the WHO will only be strengthened or weakened – there’s no possibility of it going back to the status quo.

Peter Gluckman: If you look at the multilateral system as a whole, it’s failed the citizens of the world to quite a significant extent.

Dan: The Conversation is a network of newsrooms scattered around the globe. So this week, we’re gonna hear from editors in a bunch of places, and hear what the pandemic’s like where they’re living. And also, how experts in their countries are talking about it.

Gemma: From The Conversation, I’m Gemma Ware in London.

Dan: And I’m Dan Merino in San Francisco and you’re listening to The Conversation Weekly, the world explained by experts.

Gemma: So we’re all tired of talking about coronavirus. And yet whenever I speak to someone who’s in a different parts of the world to me, I instinctively ask them, what’s it like where you are, what’s the coronavirus situation? So I’m in London, you’re in San Francisco. Dan, what are things like in California?

Dan: They’re getting better. We’re still in a pandemic, but they’re better. My housemate just got her first vaccine, hooray. Case numbers are going down. In the United States as a whole 40,000 people were infected on March 7, which is still a ton of new cases, but way less than the peak, which was 250-300,000 a day. So improvements, I’ll take it. And Gemma, how are you doing in London?

Gemma: In London, we appeared to be squashing the worst part of this deadly second wave. So on March 8, cases were at their lowest daily level in five months, just under 5,000. Schools are reopening. The vaccine campaign is picking up speed, so I think 33% of the populations had the first dose of the vaccine. The situation is still really precarious, but it is improving. What about the restrictions where you are Dan? What are you allowed to do? What aren’t you allowed to do?

Dan: Last week actually, the California governor just lifted bans on indoor dining. So you can go eat food and doors, which I’m not personally going to do anytime soon, but it’s a good sign. You guys?

Gemma: At the moment, you’re not really allowed to do anything, you can meet one person outside. But there’s a timetable in place and that is helping people look forward and plan things. So everyone’s looking forward to this day on March 29, when we’re going to be allowed to meet six people outside, maybe for a picnic or a cup of tea.

Dan: Six is a lot of people. I don’t know if I’ve seen six people in one place in, you know, months.

Read more: Coronavirus one year on: two countries that got it right, and three that got it wrong

Dan: So Gemma, it’s always fascinating talking to you because you in the UK, me in the US – our countries did not do a very good job of dealing with the pandemic. But we have colleagues in the conversation who live and work across the globe. So we reached out to them and asked what’s the situation like where you are?

Hannah Hoag: Hello, I’m Hannah Hoag, the deputy editor for The Conversation in Toronto, Canada. This week marks the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic. Things are starting to feel like they’re getting better, but there’s still a long way to go. In Toronto, we’ve been in some form of lockdown for more than a hundred days. Schools closed for the winter break and they didn’t reopen for in-person learning until mid-February. We’ve been able to go into pharmacies and grocery stores and get takeout food from restaurants, but gyms, pools, and even ski hills have been closed for most of the winter. We’ve had a stay at home order since December 26. And it seems to be working actually. Toronto’s daily case counts have dropped steadily for weeks. We’re seeing about 1,500 cases per week now in Toronto, which is close to what we saw during the peak of the first wave.

The vaccine rollout’s been slow though. Only 200,000 doses have been administered in Toronto. Roughly 1.5% of the Canadian population is fully vaccinated and about 4.5% have received at least one dose.

Ika Krismantari: Hi, I’m Ika. I’m the editorial head of The Conversation Indonesia. I live in Depok about 20km from the capital and things are quite normal here. People are still going out without wearing masks, and you can hear the background noise of cars and motorcycles passing in front of my house, during these last hours, even though the cases just went up today almost 7,000 cases.

One year after living with the virus, Indonesia has not made any progress. We’re still in the very same spot, if not going backwards. Since last October, Indonesia still ranks as the nation with the most COVID-19 cases and the highest fatality rate in south-east Asia due to the government’s failure to come up with solid policy making. Instead of turning to science for answers, some of Joko Widodo’s ministers recommended prayers and traditional herbal drinks to cure the disease. The government offers subsidies, encouraging the economic sector to run business as usual. Ironically, all these efforts to save the economy have failed and it has put our hard-won democracy under threat with the government attacking activists for criticizing its policy.

Lionel: My name is Lionel Cavicchioli. I am a health editor at The Conversation in Paris. Here in France, the situation of the epidemic is slowly degrading with more than 5,000 daily new cases of COVID and almost 400 deaths every day. Almost 4,000 people are currently in intensive care due to the virus. A curfew starting at 6.00 PM to 6.00 AM has been in place since January 16, and in the most affected regions, some cities are once again locked down, but only during weekends. The schools are still open, but the question of their closure remains debated. Paediatricians are concerned about the impact of the potential closure on children’s health, but on the other hand, some epidemiologists think that the fact that schools are still open might help the virus to spread. On the positive, vaccination is rising at fast pace and the authorities hope that it will permit to avoid a new national lockdown.

Ina Skosana: Hello, I’m Ina Skosana in Johannesburg. South Africa recently reduced its lockdown to alert level one. The country is just coming out of a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. In December, the cases that we were recording were as high as 21,000 on a single day. Now the country is reporting around 1,000 cases daily. This means that while the curfew is still in place, the hours have been reduced to between midnight and 4.00AM. Wearing masks in public, however, is still mandatory. Some restrictions on social gatherings have also been lifted. So social gatherings are allowed, but with the limitation on the number of people, depending on the size of the venue. This means that the situation appears to be improving, but the threat of another surge of infections continues.

Liam Petterson: Hi, my name’s Liam Petterson, I’m an assistant editor in the health and medicine team in Australia. I’m based in Melbourne, which is the capital of the state of Victoria. So Victoria has recorded now 11 days in a row of zero new local cases of COVID, which is pretty exciting. We had a snap of five-day lockdown just recently in mid-Feb, after some cases escaped from hotel quarantine. But that was gotten under control pretty quickly. So now everything’s pretty much opened up again. So we can now go to pubs, restaurants, retail shops, even live sport is going ahead. Schools are open and we can have up to 30 people over to our house – if you’ve got that many friends. We still do have to wear a mask though at the supermarket or in public transport.

Read more: After a year of pain, here's how the COVID-19 pandemic could play out in 2021 and beyond

In terms of vaccines, the vaccine rollout in Australia has just started too, a couple of weeks ago. We’ve vaccinated about 90,000 people to date. And one modelling study that we published an article on few months ago, suggested we need to give out 200,000 vaccines a day to get the adult population in Australia vaccinated by October. So we’re a little bit behind that target at the moment.

Elena Sanz: Hi, my name Elena Sanz and I’m a health editor for The Conversation based in Spain. February was the month with the highest number of deaths since the first wave, and unemployment reached 4 million people in the third wave of COVID. The epidemiological curve has been falling for five weeks. The 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants is now below 150. Obviously it’s too soon to be optimistic: the curve could get out of control once more anytime. The Health Out charity has estimated that to emerge completely from the risk zone, the cumulative incidence must be below 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst. As our epidemiological situation improves, some Spanish regions prepare relaxation of coronavirus measures. At the same time, central government is calling regional authorities not to let their guard down, at least until we have vaccinated 70% of the population. But we are really far away from the numbers. By the moment only 3% of the population has been administered two doses.

Gemma: That was Hannah Hoag, Ina Skosana, Lionel Cavicchioli, Ika Krismantari, Liam Petterson and Elena Sanz.

Dan: We’ll be hearing from a few of our colleagues again at the end of the episode as they recommend some excellent stories written by academics they worked with.

Gemma: But first, we’re going to talk about the World Health Organization.

Dan: Yeah, it’s not had a good year.

Gemma: No, it hasn’t. It’s faced a lot of criticism over the way it initially handled the pandemic.

Dan: Donald Trump was of course one of the main protagonists here.

Gemma: Yes. The Trump administration decided to suspend funding to the WHO in April 2020. Now, the US usually contributes around US$400 million a year to the WHO, so this was a big blow, just as it was trying to raise more money to help countries tackle the pandemic.

Dan: And Trump also announced plans to completely withdraw the US from the WHO, but Joe Biden quickly reversed that when he was sworn in.

Gemma: Things are on a slightly more even keel now. But there are still big questions being asked of the organisation’s response to the early days of the pandemic. I spoke to three experts in global health to find out where the WHO goes from here.

Peter: Quite clearly in what is the biggest existential crisis and the biggest public health crisis since the second world war, the international organisation didn’t meet what was expected of it.

Gemma: This is Peter Gluckman.

Peter: I’m former chief science advisor to the prime minister of New Zealand. I am president of the International Network of Government Science Advice, President-elect of the International Science Council. And I head Koi Tū, the Centre for Informed Futures at the Universtiy of Auckland.

Gemma: He says it wasn’t just the WHO which was at fault.

Peter: The United Nations has not itself engaged with an issue which is clearly more than a health issue. We’ve not had a meeting of the world’s leaders. The security council has not engaged. So I think if you look at the multilateral system as a whole, it’s failed the citizens of the world to quite a significant extent over the last year.

Gemma: Peter says that the international rules that are meant to prevent a virus from spreading around the world just didn’t work.

Peter: What we’re seeing is that the International Health Regulations of 2005 were not fit for purpose in the sense that at least one nation didn’t comply with the the articles of the convention.

Gemma: These regulations, which are binding in international law, were last revised in 2005, a few years after the SARS outbreak.

Peter: Secondly, the WHO clearly had its own problems, which relate to the fact that WHO’s decision-making is never solely technical. It always involves a political component to it. And I think one of the issues we must learn from this is that there’s a need to separate the technical from the political. And I think that we’re seeing that geopolitical issues influenced heavily some of those early responses of the WHO system, despite the fact that there are good technical people within the agency.

Gemma: The early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, and the WHO’s response to it, are now being pored over from every angle by a number of different inquiries. Central among them is the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness, chaired by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia, and Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand.

In its interim report, published in January, the panel said, and I quote: “The World Health Organization has been underpowered to do the job expected of it.”

Andrew: Here we go. OK, I think it’s recording.

Gemma: OK, fantastic. All right, so first of all, could I get you to just introduce yourself say your full name and your position.

Andrew: I’m Andrew Lakoff, I’m a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, and I have been doing research on the way that experts in public health and global security prepare and respond to health emergencies.

Gemma: Andrew says that it’s important to understand the things that the WHO got right in its reponse to COVID-19, and what it got wrong.

Andrew: The WHO was very quick to declare COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern back in January of 2020, and to use that declaration to alert countries of the world that they needed to prepare for the onset of a deadly pandemic.

What I think WHO can be criticised for, I guess, at a couple of levels, first of all, there have been several times when it has proven, either incorrect or behind the curve on the science involved as its issued guidance. One of its main roles is to issue technical guidelines to national governments on how to respond to a health emergency. So for example, early on, it didn’t emphasise a mask-wearing mandates. It’s also been, it seems behind the curve on the science of aerosol transmission of the virus. And, also very early on, the really important issue of asymptomatic transmission of the virus, WHO seemed not to get that right.

Gemma: So you just mentioned some of the scientific question marks about its response, but it’s also been criticised for the way it investigated the beginning and the way it was able to get information out of China right at the start. What kind of constraints does the WHO operate under the limits its initial response to a pandemic?

Andrew: So it’s important to remember that WHO does not have sovereignty over its member states, it relies on national governments to allow its outbreak investigators in to perform an investigation of an outbreak like COVID-19 or any other dangerous disease. So in the case of the early stages of the pandemic, WHO was arguably engaged in very, active public diplomacy. And I think it’s been criticised, probably rightfully so, for being overly differential to China in the early stages and even into the present as international investigators have sought to understand the origins of the pandemic.

Gemma: Tensions have mounted in recent weeks surrounding the WHO’s investigation into the origins of COVID-19. A WHO team of scientists finally went to Wuhan in January to carry out an investigation. There have been delays to the publication of the final report, and in early March, a separate group of scientists wrote an open letter, calling for a new international inquiry citing what they termed “structural limitations” to the WHO’s one.

Read more: I was the Australian doctor on the WHO's COVID-19 mission to China. Here's what we found about the origins of the coronavirus

Andrew says an important element of the origins investigation will be how its findings – and where they apportion blame or responsibility – are used to help prepare for future pandemics.

Andrew: If the origin of this one is understood to have to do with a zoonotic transmission, a spillover from wildlife into human populations, that would lead to a whole set of possible reform measures and initiatives that would try to prevent that in the future. If the source of the outbreak were something else, whether it’s the accidental lab leak hypothesis or the frozen food hypothesis that China has recently been promulgating, presumably that would lead to an entirely different set of prevention and preparedness measures in the future.

Gemma: When I asked Peter Gluckman about how important the outcome of the origins investigation would be to the future, he said he thought it would be of limited long-term value, given the delay in the inspection team gaining access to Wuhan.

Peter: Whatever it finds will be interesting, but it’s almost of prurient interest now rather than fundamental interest.

Gemma: He says that the question of what the world could have done differently it had known more, earlier, is still worth thinking about.

Peter: What if we’d known more at the time when it started to leak out of China, would it have made a fundamental difference? Many of us think it could have, but we don’t know. And therefore all we can do is learn from our assessment of almost of a hypothetical counterfactual and plan for the next pandemic based on what we think we might have done better.

Gemma: A year into the pandemic, that question is clearly focusing minds about the future, and not just in the corridors of the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva.

Ana Amaya: Hello, my name is Ana Amaya and I am an assistant professor at Pace University, and I’m also associate research fellow at the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies.

Gemma: Ana researches global health security, particularly how developing countries in the global south interact with organisations such as the WHO. She told me about some of the conversations going on about the need for reform.

Ana: In terms of the WHO, generally from several countries in the global south, it is clear that the status quo is no longer acceptable. There are increasing calls for greater representation at the decision-making level. By reducing the influence and share of earmarked funding as well as redistributing funds and sort of moving away from what they see as a very Geneva-centric institution to redistributing more funds to the regional offices. There are also calls for more inclusion of voices from the global south, not only the governments, but also civil society and other actors.

Gemma: Ana recently published new research looking at the role regional organisations, such as Mercosur, in South America, or Asean in south-east Asia, can play in reacting to health emergencies like epidemics.

Ana: What we found is that regional organisations can very much serve as a bridge between global and national policy levels. They can also support a better disease surveillance, mobilise supply chains, facilitate trade for better distribution of goods, and importantly, they can also support the production and procurement of medicines and supplies.

Gemma: Ana says that regional organisations aren’t perfect and come with their own politics and regional tensions. But they have helped co-ordinate effective responses in the past, and she points to the outbreak of SARS in the 2003 as a good example.

Ana: The response to SARS from Asean very much stemmed from this understanding that these countries could not control SARS on their own. And so they developed a number of meetings to develop practical advice, to support their member states as well as very strict measures to contain the spread of the virus in the continent. And so that was a very early on success from that regional organisation and very much what led to not only part of the revision of the International Health Regulations, but also Asean becoming much more involved in health issues.

For COVID-19, we have seen a number of different initiatives from regional organisations. For example, we know that the Southern Common Market or Mercosur was able to support the bulk purchasing and pooled purchasing of their member states of essential medicines and medical supplies.

We also see, the African Union being able to unilaterally negotiate and secure millions of doses of vaccines for its member states.

Gemma: But Ana doesn’t think that these regional organisations, most of which were originally set up to deal with trade issues, can ever replace a global organisation like the WHO when it comes to the world’s health. Nor does she think that a completely new global health organisation should be set up after the pandemic.

Ana: I’m very wary of calls for new institutions because this will likely create fragmentation and parallel efforts which can only lead to lack of policy coherence and ultimately waste of resources.

Gemma: But that she says something has got to change.

Ana: We’re in a strange time where the WHO will only be strengthened or weakened, there’s no possibility of it going back to the status quo, pre-pandemic. And so I think the likelihood of it gaining more power is significant. But again, pandemics and health emergencies that have happened in the past and WHO continues to try to find its role.

Gemma: This isn’t the first time that the WHO has faced criticism of its handling of a major disease outbreak, but not always for the same reasons. Here’s Andrew Lakoff again.

Andrew: In 2009, you’ll recall the early stages of the outbreak of H1N1, or swine flu, and this was in a period when global health authorities were really worried about the danger of a pandemic of influenza.

And so at the early stages WHO issued very strong warnings to countries to put their national preparedness plans in place, to develop mass vaccination campaigns and so on, and countries responded. They ordered millions of doses of vaccine through advanced purchase agreements with vaccine manufacturers and they put in place these campaigns. Then it turned out by the fall that H1N1 was less severe than was expected and they faced a lot of criticism, especially from European countries for having overreacted, for having sounded the alarm too strongly and national populations were hesitant to get vaccinated. And indeed, WHO was criticised for being too close to the pharmaceutical industry and its experts were accused of having had a conflict of interest in declaring an alert, so strongly and so early.

Read more: Why the WHO, often under fire, has a tough balance to strike in its efforts to address health emergencies

Gemma: After that, Andrew says the WHO became more cautious about declaring a public health emergency of international concern.

Andrew: That caution then got them into trouble in 2014 with the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

The epidemic began in the spring, but by the time WHO declared an emergency, it was late summer and the outbreak was out of control in west Africa. And the response by that point, global observers argued had been catastrophic. And so WHO was widely criticised for not having responded proactively enough in the case of Ebola.

Ebola makes a humane death impossible. Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA

Gemma: Every time the WHO declares that an outbreak is a public health emergency, an investigation takes place afterwards to assess how the organisation responded and to come up with some recommendations.

Andrew: Now in the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic, the recommendations were that WHO consolidate its emergencies programme and do a much better job of coordinating emergency response early on. And indeed they did put together a new emergencies programme in the years after the Ebola epidemic and you’ve seen that emergencies program quite active during the pandemic of COVID-19.

Gemma: Andrew says that the the WHO is clearly an organisation that is used to transforming itself after crises like this. But again, the solutions are limited by what its member states agree to – and the funding they provide.

The past year has also shown just how vulnerable the WHO is if a core member state pulls out. When I asked Ana Amaya how the departure – and then return – of the US was being seen in the global south, she said there were two camps.

Ana: There are some who believe that it was an opportunity to really reform the institution and to sort of remove the institution from the influence of these large countries. But again now with the entry of China and the big influence that it also wields, I believe, and others also believe that this China-US axis very much creates a little bit of a counterpart to each other and can even out the conversations. But again, they are countries that very much look for their own interests and this is why groupings of countries can really help balance those big powers, right. And I do see the potential for, a change not only in global decision-making, but also addressing these global health inequities following COVID-19.

Gemma: The WHO has been in almost a perpetual state of reform for the past few years. In 2019, just a few months before the outbreak of coronvirus, its director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced a sweeping programme of reforms to the organisation’s structure. But now, calls for change are growing louder. Peter Gluckman has been pushing for the world’s leaders to use this moment as a catalyst.

Peter: If we take lessons after the Chernobyl nuclear event, when parties that previously were not willing to talk about a convention on a nuclear accidents suddenly came together, both Russia, Ukraine and the US quickly were early on signatories in a new convention, which was rapidly achieved.

Gemma: This lead to the creation of a specific organisation, based in Vienna, to deal with nuclear accidents. The scale of the disaster at Chernobyl created a window of opportunity that focused minds, and required world leaders to put politics aside to think through what was needed.

Peter: And I think we’re at that point, with this pandemic.

Gemma: Peter co-authored an article in late 2020 for The Conversation suggesting that the world needed a new early-warning protocol for infectious diseases, that would work alongside the WHO but be separate from it.

Peter: You wouldn’t want to undo the WHO, you still need a global agency at the UN level, a major agency around global health, but you could separate out into a separate bureau, a technical agency around pandemic and infectious disease. You could require countries to to sign up to a much more compliant regime of notification, sample and information exchange, particularly genetic information which is now critical. You could in that protocol include an inspection element and you certainly would want it to have information exchange capabilities and rapid response capabilities.

Gemma: Part of what he’s suggesting would be to give this new convention or bureau the power to send in inspectors, even without the agreement of the country where a potential viral threat is emerging. He says this is particularly important as we don’t know where the next pandemic could come from.

Peter: There are potentials for other forms of sources of viruses ranging from, you know maker laboratories, which are springing up around the world and genetic engineering through to the biological warfare and so forth. And that’s another reason I think for a stronger protocol, which acknowledges these issues, particularly because the convention on biological warfare does not have an inspection regime and does not have a scientific support mechanism. So I think if we were to redo a convention here or a new protocol, it should cover all sources of viral risk, irrespective of how it might emerge.

Gemma: Others are taking up similar ideas. In December, Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, proposed a new global pandemic treaty. When I asked Peter about this he said it had related origins to the discussions that he’d been having.

Peter: In fact, a lot of work was then done through a part of the international network for government science advice, which is called the Foreign Ministers Science and Technology Advisory Network.

Gemma: There’s been a lot of discussion going on behind the scenes. Science advisers from around 30 countries, as well as those from the European Commission, have started work on a draft protocol. In late January, the WHO’s director-general Dr Tedros said he supported the European proposal for a pandemic treaty. He announced the WHO would put together a working group to explore the idea.

Peter: And we’re currently writing a more extensive background paper covering the various points that we think any new protocol or convention might cover.

Gemma: Still, Peter says there’s no point being idealistic about whatever new system does emerge.

Peter: Whatever is produced is going to have flaws in the sense that of a member state, even if it signs an agreement, refuses to cooperate, there’s relatively little that the global community can do about it.

Gemma: There’s no specific time frame for these discussions. It’s possible reforms could be discussed in May at the World Health Assembly, a meeting of national health ministers. But Peter thinks it may need to go to the very top.

Peter: I personally think at the end of the day, this will need a global summit at the level of prime ministers and presidents to make substantial progress. So I think that if we don’t take this opportunity now, it would be a sad mistake.

Dan: I really wonder if world leaders are going to listen to Peter, take this opportunity.

Gemma: It sounds like they’re going to need to, if the WHO is going to change in any meaningful way. In the show notes, you can read an article by Peter Gluckman about his proposals and another by Andrew Lakoff on the way that the WHO has reacted to crises in the past.

Dan: To end the show this week, we’ve got a few recommendations of stories written by academics to highlight the one-year anniversary of COVID-19.

Hannah: My recommendation for this week is a story by Byram Bridle. He’s a researcher in the pathology department at the University of Guelph, and he’s written about the effect of hand-sanitizing, mask wearing and the lack of social contact and might have on children’s immune systems. Normally, infants and toddlers are exposed to all kinds of microbes, which help their immune systems develop. So there’s some concern that raising kids in these isolated and sanitised environments could put them at risk for allergies and asthma. We still don’t know this for sure, but it might be an unintended consequence of what taking these extra precautions does. And, it makes parents think about what they could do to expose their kids to the microbial world. Maybe by doing some more gardening or cuddling with dogs and cats.

Gemma: That was Hannah Hoag in Toronto. And our second recommendation comes from Lionel Cavicchioli in Paris.

Lionel: On March 11, it will be one year since the coronavirus epidemic became a pandemic. One year later, we already have several vaccines available, but no antiviral drugs. I asked Dominique Costagliola, research director at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, why and what are the most promising leads at the moment? This eminent epidemiologist has devoted much of her career to the fight against HIV. She told me that there are still no conclusive clinical trial results and that this is not so surprising, because we don’t actually have any effective drugs for curing short-term viral infections. In addition, to avoid the emergence of resistant coronaviruses, several effective antiviral molecules would be needed to treat patients on the model of what is used in the fight against AIDS. Let’s say, we are not there yet.

Gemma: Alright, that’s it for this week. Thanks to all the academics who’ve spoken to us for this episode.

Dan: You can find links to all the expert analysis we’ve mentioned in this episode – and tonnes of other good reading – in the show notes. And if you learnt loads and want to read more, click the link to sign up to our free daily email.

You can also find us on Twitter @TC_Audio or on Instagram at theconversationdotcom. We’d also love to hear your thoughts on the show. Send us an email at

Gemma: Lots of people around the world helped make this episode a reality. Thanks to Liam Petterson, Megan Clement, Ika Krismantari, Ina Skosana, Martin La Monica, Lucía Cabellero, Elena Sanz, Lionel Cavicchioli, Hannah Hoag, Sunanda Creagh and Stephen Khan. And final thanks to Alice Mason and Imriel Morgan.

Gemma: This episode is co-produced by Mend Mariwany and me, with sound design by Eloise Stevens.

Dan: Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. Thank you so much everyone for listening this week and we’ll talk to you soon.

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