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COVID-19 is 'first global problem recognized as global problem': Jared Diamond

All News 15:55 June 04, 2020

By Lee Minji

SEOUL, June 4 (Yonhap) -- Pulitzer-winning geographer Jared Diamond called the new coronavirus pandemic "the first global problem recognized as a global problem," urging countries and cities to respond together to the virus that has infected more than 6 million globally.

"The biggest change for the world is that the world for the first time in its history now faces a global problem that is recognized as a global problem," Diamond said in a livestreamed meeting with Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon on Thursday.

"Yes, there are real global problems, such as climate change ... but the world has not rallied together and recognized climate change as a common enemy," he said, attributing this to the speed and scope of the infectious virus that has killed more than 350,000 worldwide in just a few months since its emergence.

Comparing the new coronavirus to other diseases that have taken a toll on humanity -- such as black death, small pox and measles -- Diamond said the infectious virus itself is actually an "old type" of disease that is much less fatal than others.

The geographer, who explored the topic of germs in his Pulitzer-winning work "Guns, Germs and Steel" instead said that what's new about the pandemic is that the virus is new in the sense that no country has the experience of dealing with it or is immune to it.

"The most important message of COVID-19 is no country in the world will be safe from COVID as long as no country in the world continues to have COVID. ... We will just get reinfected from other countries."

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon (L) and Jared Diamond (C), professor of geography at UCLA, speak at a livestreamed online meeting held at city hall in central Seoul on June 4, 2020. Diamond joined the talk from his home in Los Angeles, California. (Yonhap)

In this sense, the geography professor who teaches at UCLA said it is important for countries to have "models" and benchmark "a country or a city that has faced a similar crisis and dealt well with it and avoid a model that has failed to respond well."

Diamond said the antivirus efforts demonstrated by the South Korean government and the city of Seoul can play that role, referring to what Park summarized as swift testing and tracing, innovative methods and the public's active participation.

South Korea, which reported its first new coronavirus case in late January, has managed to keep mortality rates low by conducting large-scale virus checks, adopting creative ideas -- such as drive-thru screening centers and anonymous testing -- and strongly advising people to wear face masks.

"The significance of Seoul and your response not only in making life safe and prosperous for your citizens but also serving as a model for the whole world," Diamond said, contrasting the response here to the United States, which he claimed as being "reluctant" to learn from other countries.

Diamond warned that pandemics like COVID-19 will continue to occur.

"There are going to be more germs and more epidemics. ... COVID will not be the last new disease. We have to expect the spread of old diseases at new places," he said, underscoring the need to be prepared, have a plan and stockpile devices.

The livestreamed talk was held as part of the city government's five-day international conference of major cities around the world on tackling the new coronavirus.

mlee@yna.co.kr
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