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J-IDEA symposium: Tony Blair on the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic

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Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the coronavirus pandemic could accelerate social inequality and the wealth gap.

In a special video recording to mark the one-year anniversary of the Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics (J-IDEA), Mr Blair spoke with the institute's director Professor Neil Ferguson.

Headquartered at Imperial College London, the Jameel Institute (J-IDEA) was setup last year to rapidly respond to emergencies such as pandemics, extreme climate events, and natural and humanitarian disasters. Just weeks after it was launched, reports of the first cases of the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, emerged from Asia.

On November 24, J-IDEA will host a symposium: Shaping the post-COVID-19 world.

Long-term challenges 

Blair
Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said the UK is facing an 'unprecedented economic situation'

Mr Blair said that long-term challenges could be accelerated and intensified as a result of the pandemic.

"There is an opportunity following the pandemic to learn lessons and reorganise ourselves internationally to be better prepared in future." Tony Blair Former UK Prime Minister

Mr Blair said: "Many social concerns, inequality, income stagnation, the wealthier getting wealthier, the poorer getting poorer, I think you will find all of those things back with a vengeance and very strong, and that will pose some real challenges for policymakers in a constrained fiscal environment.

"The adoption of technology is going to be accelerated. People have learned that we can do a lot with technology and that will mean a challenge as some jobs get displaced. But there is an opportunity following this, that we should learn lessons and reorganise ourselves internationally to be better prepared in future."

Economic challenges

Mr Blair warned that the UK was facing an 'unprecedented economic situation' as a result of the pandemic. 

Mr Blair said: "I think getting to the four elements that are necessary; vaccines, therapeutics, testing and data are the big challenges.

"If we rise to those challenges there is light at the end of the tunnel and we can get through this. But if we don’t, the economic damage of a further heavy lockdown if it takes us to spring or summer next year to get on top of this, then we’re going to face an unprecedented economic situation."

Public restrictions

Mr Blair said: "If people feel the rules don’t make sense, compliance drops. One of the huge problems we have in the UK is compliance has dropped.

"How far are the public prepared to go in accepting quite tough surveillance in order to get on top of the disease?

"I think the public is prepared for some quite draconian measures if they see it’s according to a plan and it actually can work.

"Where you appear to be changing all the time or quite uncertain and not really explaining things is when people lose confidence."

Lack of global coordination and leadership

"All countries are facing basically the same problem with their own context and circumstances." Tony Blair Former UK Prime Minister

Mr Blair said: "The most surprising thing for me has been the absence of global coordination and political leadership on what is an unprecedented crisis, the biggest challenge that government has ever faced in terms of scale, logistics and its been completely global.

"All countries are facing basically the same problem with their own context and circumstances.

"The global leadership that you would expect in such a situation has just not been present and if it had been I expect we would have all got through this a lot quicker.

"I think we’re in a very difficult situation, I think there are some big decisions that we need to take pretty fast. I think there’s going to be a major question over whether we get vaccines and therapeutics out of the door quicker.

"I still think without mass testing it’s hard to get a handle on the disease and we have had in recent times the development of much more accurate rapid tests."

Health data can be transformative

Neil Ferguson
Neil Ferguson, Director of J-IDEA, published a landmark report modelling the outbreak of coronavirus



J-IDEA brings together epidemiologists, biostatisticians, medics and data scientists whose work has been critical to the global response to the coronavirus crisis. 

"If you can use health data you can develop whole new ways of curing disease, and that’s why what you're doing at the Jameel Institute (J-IDEA) is so important." Tony Blair Former UK Prime Minister

They have analysed the continuously changing data in real-time, and produced  dozens of reports led by the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, on the pandemic, which have informed governments and health services around the world.

Mr Blair said: "I think data is key. Without data you can't understand and with data if you have it at scale, so many opportunities open up.

"If you can use health data you can develop whole new ways of curing disease, and that’s why what you're doing at J-IDEA is so important.

"The capability of data and using it well is absolutely transformative.

"One of the important things about your institute is if we did this on a globally coordinated basis think how much better we’d be."

J-IDEA Symposium: Shaping the post-COVID-19 world

J-IDEA symposiumTo mark the one-year anniversary of the J-IDEA the institute is hosting an online symposium: ‘Shaping the post-COVID-19 world’.

During these unprecedented times, we continue to learn how to control the virus, support and mitigate its economic and social impacts, and review how we can effectively prepare for pandemics in the future. Our symposium aims to explore difficult lessons and help us shape J-IDEA’s research agenda for the post-COVID-19 world.

J-IDEA is co-founded by Imperial College London and Community Jameel, the global philanthropy established by Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel KBE

Since the launch, the Institute has been largely focussed on analysing the impact of COVID-19 around the world. For all of our COVID-19 reports and planning tools, please see our COVID-19 resources page.

The symposium brings together esteemed panellists from a diverse range of backgrounds and from across the globe. We hope you will join us for an insightful and engaging discussion.  

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Stephen Johns

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Email: s.johns@imperial.ac.uk

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Roshni Mehta

Roshni Mehta
School of Public Health

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JIDEA, International, Health-policy, Global-health, Coronavirus, COVIDWEF
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