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Stanford health expert warns coronavirus could become pandemic, countries not responding fast enough

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Director of the Stanford Asia Health Policy Program Karen Eggleston predicted that coronavirus would become a global pandemic at a talk sponsored by Bechtel International Center this Tuesday.

“The issue of pandemic is not if, but when,” Eggleston said. 

The Center for Disease Control defines a pandemic as an epidemic that occurs over multiple countries or continents and affects a large number of people.

Eggleston is a senior fellow studying public health and policy in Asia at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute, and a former consultant to the World Health Organization working on public health reforms in China. She joins multiple health experts and officials in sounding the alarm that the coronavirus could develop into a pandemic, according to The New York Times.

According to the same article, the coronavirus epidemic has exceeded 90,000 cases, with 3,000 recorded deaths. Mainland China has been most affected, followed by South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan.

Eggleston said it is “highly uncertain” what the economic and social costs of programs such as travel bans and quarantines will be, saying that coronavirus has already cost China $12.6 billion.

Countries with weaker public health systems, less-developed transportation infrastructures and fewer resources overall will have a harder time preventing outbreaks, especially in vulnerable populations such as healthcare workers and the infirmed, according to Eggleston. 

“It’s really like a stress test to the political system by its interaction with broader society,” she said. 

Eggleston said the uncertainty in estimating coronavirus’ cost stemmed from inaccurate and incomplete data, especially for researchers trying to determine accurate rates of mortality and transmissibility with shifting numbers on how many are now carriers of the disease.

The efficiency of gathering this data is also being affected by a lack of resources, she added. There is an international shortage of coronavirus test kits, meaning that researchers have struggled to acquire an accurate figure for the number of infected, according to Eggleston.

“We’re learning about this as we go,” she said.

Eggleston said she was concerned that countries other than China have not mobilized public health resources quickly enough to address the growing crisis.

“China has bought the world time,” Eggleston said. “People there have been suffering to buy the world time; have we been preparing?”

Contact Lana Tleimat at ltleimat ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Lana Tleimat '23 is Volume 257 Desk Editor of Satire. She is from Columbus, Ohio and not really studying anything. Contact her at ltleimat 'at' stanford.edu.