Covid-19 is “worse than any of the science fiction” about pandemics and “we’re still at the beginning” of the global crisis it has sparked, a leading expert has said.
Dr David Nabarro, one of the World Health Organisation (WHO) special envoys on the disease, said the coronavirus will “probably double the number of poor people” and destroy opportunity for young people.
He painted the startlingly gloomy picture of the crisis while appearing before MPs on the Commons’ foreign affairs committee on Tuesday.
Asked by Labour MP Chris Bryant what he made of those who sought to play down the threat of the virus, Nabarro said he would “be straight” in his reply, adding: “None of us find the present situation, anything other than horrible grotesque, really embarrassing.
“It’s a terrible situation, a health issue has got so out of control it’s knocking the world into, not just a recession, but a huge economic contraction which would probably double the number of poor people, double the number of malnourished, lead to hundreds of millions of small businesses going bankrupt.”
He added there was also a risk of the pandemic would ruin life chances for young people all around the world.
Nabarro said: It’s awful. And we really, really are, all of us, deeply saddened and troubled by it.
“But that applies to most people in our world who are all having to make sense of something that they couldn’t imagine.
“It’s much worse than any of the science fiction about pandemics.
“This is really serious – we’re not even in the middle of it yet. We’re still at the beginning of it.
“And we’re beginning to see what damage it’s going to cause the world.
“And it’s getting nastier as we go into this particular phase in Europe of watching the thing come back again.”
Pressed further on what he made of conspiracy theorists, who wrongly blame 5G for the disease, and the anti-face mask movement, Nabarro had an equally direct response.
He said: “I think we’ve got to entertain the fact that everybody everywhere is looking for an explanation, and we need to level with them and say: ‘We quite understand it’.
“We know how absolutely awful this is for so many hundreds of millions of people.
“Based on my understanding this virus was visited on us at the very end of last year, and we’ve been learning to live with it for this year, and we will make sense of it, and we will be able to work out how to do it, but it’s going to take us quite a bit longer.”
Nabarro also rejected the claims of US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who claimed while in the UK speaking to MPs that officials on the WHO had been “bought” by China and was a “political, not a science-based organisation”.
Nabarro said: “I would like to really accentuate that since the end of January WHO has given out one – one – pattern of advice: it’s a coronavirus, it’s not flu. You need to contain it quickly, robustly, if you don’t, it builds up exponentially and it becomes deeply entrenched in your country and you will find it extremely difficult to get rid of. Speed is of the essence.
He added: “I want to really, really stress that this is an organisation whose values are global, for equity and for justice. The people working there are all in that vein.
“I have seen absolutely no evidence, particularly in the emergencies programme, because they are such amazingly committed people showing any of the kind of bias you have shown.
“I don’t recognise what the secretary of state said when he made those comments to MPs.”