Workers wait for medical waste to be delivered to their storage facility at the Youan Hospital in Beijing on Feb. 14. GREG BAKER/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Article initially published in Foreign Policy on February 14, 2020 and written by Annie Sparrow.

Outbreaks are inevitable. Whether they become pandemics – the uncontrolled spread of contagious diseases across countries and continents – depends on our response. Pandemics have always depended upon fast travel networks and dense populations, once relatively unusual, now a global norm from Nairobi to Jakarta.

The Ebola virus outbreak in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is one such pandemic threat. After more than 18 months, just three cases are left. Yet Congo and many other deeply vulnerable countries in Africa and elsewhere are already screening for novel coronavirus, expected to be the latest scourge. The spectrum of illness the virus causes is now referred to as COVID-19, a label that looks more like a license plate than a diagnosis.

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