The Wuhan coronavirus, or nCoV-2019, is likely to become a pandemic in the coming weeks, having already infected at least 17,000 and killed some 400. The World Health Organization has belatedly declared a public health emergency, while at least 45 million Chinese citizens remain under lockdown. Despite botching up the initial response in Wuhan, authorities in China have since been fast to share information on the outbreak and have even invited overseas experts for help. A draft sequence of the genome has also been published online and scientists from across the world have shared their analysis. Despite wild speculation about the origins of the Wuhan virus there’s absolutely no evidence it is anything other than a naturally mutated pathogen – indeed, it would make no sense for a state to produce a bioweapon that has both high communicability and low lethality.
However, future threats to global health will come not only from natural viruses like nCoV-2019, but also from man-made pathogens. Mechanisms that aid early detection and encourage transparency need to be institutionalised quickly as a combination of breakthrough technologies and human malice raise the threat from bioweapons. Major states like China and India are well positioned to champion this institutionalization given their high vulnerability to bioweapons attacks and their shared desire to shape global institutions. (Read more)