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The COVID 19 pandemic is perhaps the costliest intelligence failure in modern times. And perhaps the dawn of a new discipline – Biomedical Intelligence. Good intelligence is considered to be a force- multiplier in warfare and often the difference between victory and defeat. In this case, the consequences of this failure have been telling, crippling nations across the globe.

Deception, camouflage and concealment deny the opponent critical information and a sudden show of hand at the appropriate time springs the element of ‘surprise’ upon an unsuspecting victim. This critical ‘principle of war’ has been used with devastating effect in hundreds of battles and conflicts across centuries. The novel Coronavirus has wreaked a similar devastation upon humanity. Theories are rife about what caused the pandemic but there is no doubt about its place of origin. -The ‘debrief’ is yet to be done and time will reveal the truth if the narrative is not ‘fudged’ by then.

The World Health Organisation, like all other affected nations, will be left licking its wounds when this is over. The health watchdog has failed miserably in realising the danger posed by the novel Coronavirus and in issuing timely warnings to the world. If reports are to be believed, the devastating and trans-national potential of the virus was positively known somewhere in January 2020 but the WHO chose to declare it a pandemic only on 11 March 2020 – a good 45 days later. By that time, the damage was done. It was another 10 days before other nations scrambled to lockdown in a last ditch effort to limit further devastation. 60 days of negligence and inaction is now exacting a phenomenal penalty.

The post COVID 19 world cannot allow a repeat of such a situation. Hence, there is the immediate need to develop the capability of Biomedical Intelligence. It has to be at all levels – from the strategic to the tactical. The world must know where the likely troublespots are, who the players may be and what ‘witches’ brew’ could be in the making. Then, there must be regular updates from accross the world on any abnormal activity such as biotech experiments or local outbreaks that appear out of the ordinary. And finally, the world must instantaneously be able to respond to a possible contagion with all measures to localise and contain it. This will require rapid dissemination of information and intervention by world bodies and national governments.

Only then will non-affected nations be able to come to the assistance of those in the grip of the contagion. Today, our helplessness is not so much because we are all afflicted by the pandemic but that we cannot even help each other. The COVID 19 pandemic should be seen as an unprecedented and historic shame in what we call a civilised world. And one which was totally preventable.

27 Mar 2020

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