PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Clade X pandemic simulation

Twilley-PandemicSimulation-CladeX.jpg

In The New Yorker, Nicola Twilley reports on a pandemic simulation conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security last month:

I was in the ballroom of the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, D.C., when the worst pandemic since the 1918 Spanish flu broke out. On cable news, there were reports of four hundred confirmed cases, mostly clustered in Frankfurt, Germany, but with infected individuals reported as far afield as Tokyo, Kabul, and Caracas. Brow furrowed, eyes widened, the anchorwoman’s tone was urgent as she described the spread of a new type of parainfluenza virus, called Clade X. Transmitted through inhalation, it left the infected contagious but otherwise unaffected for up to week before killing more than ten per cent of its victims.

In the ballroom with me, seated around a U-shaped table under glittering chandeliers, were ten senior political figures, an ad-hoc working group convened at the President’s request. The situation looked bad. At Ramstein Air Base, in southwest Germany, three U.S. service members were critically ill, and three infected Venezuelans warned that the outbreak there was much worse than authorities were admitting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a vaccine would likely take more than a year to develop. Meanwhile, Australia, China, and South Africa had already imposed travel restrictions on flights from Germany and Venezuela. A bipartisan group of senators was calling for a similar travel ban; a recent poll had suggested that sixty-five per cent of the public supported them. “What should our priorities be?” the national-security adviser asked.

Clade X turned out to be an engineered bioweapon, combining the virulence of Nipah virus with parainfluenza’s ease of transmission. It had been intentionally released by A Brighter Dawn, a fictitious group modelled on the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, which carried out the sarin-gas attacks in the Tokyo subway system, in 1995. A Brighter Dawn’s stated goal was to reduce the world’s population to pre-industrial levels. By the end of the day, which represented twenty months in the simulation, they had managed to kill a perfectly respectable hundred and fifty million people….

Her account of the simulation highlights the way in which technocratic responses to the pandemic threat ran headlong into popular attitudes, social media rumours, and misconceptions, and the resulting politics of it all. She also notes some of the complications created by unclear lines of responsibility and leadership, a federal political system, and—in the US case—a private healthcare system that may emphasize profit margin over collective response to a major national and international health emergency. Finally, the simulation pointed to planning and preparations that could be undertaken now to lessen the impact of such an event in the future, were it ever to occur.

A much fuller account of the scenario is available at the John Hopkins School of Public Health’s Global Health Now website.

You can find additional reports on the Clade X simulation here too:

h/t Brian Philips

 

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