A new foreign study shows that China and Western Australia were relatively successful "open havens" during the Newcastle pneumonia outbreak.
The abstract analyzes puzzling scientific studies, future technologies, new discoveries and major breakthroughs.
If the continuing news about climate change, nuclear deterrence and coronaviruses has you thinking that human civilization may be collapsing, take heart: you are not alone.
Scientists studying the risk of global disasters - with the goal of predicting and mitigating the damage caused by these disasters - are constantly reflecting on human survival and developing new ways to respond to potential threats to our species.
The Newcastle pneumonia epidemic, now in its third year, underscores one of the most successful survival strategies: seeking isolated sanctuary.
In research and science fiction, shelters from pandemics and other global disasters are often envisioned as extremely remote places underground, underwater, in outer space, or on islands.
Now, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Risk Analysis, two researchers have turned that idea on its head by successfully responding to COVID in two very different places, China and Western Australia, which have proven to be useful models for future "pandemic shelters," though not the traditional ones.
Seth Baum, a geographer and executive director of the Global Catastrophe Risk Institute in Washington, said on a conference call, "I've done research on these global disaster shelters before, including exotic places like outer space."
"This is a topic that has been of interest to me for some time."
But despite the dizzying array of futuristic shelters beyond Earth, Baum and study co-author Vanessa Adams, a geographer at the University of Tasmania, realized that the COVID pandemic revealed a different, more practical roadmap for disaster mitigation.
The differences in the two countries' experiences with outbreaks - for example, the U.S. was repeatedly swamped by surges of the virus, while Tasmania had little community transmission - alarmed the team, which decided to look for overlooked patterns in the number of international cases, while also taking into account the particularly low number of cases in Western Australia.
"The most striking thing was China," recalls Baum.
"We have the most populous country in the world here, and the number of cases there is extremely low."
"China is not isolated - they have borders with a whole bunch of countries that are densely populated borders, but they still manage to keep it out," he continued.
This is really remarkable.
That's why we chose Western Australia and China as the two places we focus on in our newspapers.
Baum and Adams note that despite its large population, China will be able to keep coronavirus cases to about 1,358 per 100,000 people from March 2020 to January 2022, a shockingly low number compared to the 98,556 cases in the United States and the 142,365 cases in India.
Meanwhile, cases in Western Australia hovered around 48.8 cases per 100,000 people.
These two pandemic shelters are successful for different reasons; China has a "zero COVID" policy with a strict embargo, while Western Australia benefits from its remote location (although Australia has also introduced strict COVID measures).
However, according to this study, Baum and Adams pinpointed similarities between the locations that supported their response to the pandemic, including centralized government, strong intra-group cohesion, and the ability to continue trade during the pandemic, which provided them with an economic lifeline that distinguished them as "open sanctuaries.
Baum notes that these factors also go to the heart of the "tension between individual rights and collective public health," which can raise difficult political questions.
"At the end of the day, it depends on how much momentum there is in this place to eliminate community outreach and how capable they are of doing that," Baum said.
"It's rooted in an ability, perhaps an orientation, to emphasize good outcomes for the whole place, rather than individual freedom, and so on."
A place with less personal freedom may provide some advantage in controlling the spread of disease.
Meanwhile, according to the study, Western Australia's "political acceptance of hard borders, even for internal migrants," may have influenced its response.
These findings suggest that the suitability of a site as a pandemic refuge is intertwined with a complex set of social, political, and economic variables.
Untangling this web can help experts prepare the best possible outcome for a more serious pandemic or any other type of worldwide disaster.
"To a large extent, that was my personal motivation for doing this study - to understand in general terms how we respond to global disaster risk," Baum concluded.
I have moved away from the idea of a sanctuary as something that can play a meaningful role in risk reduction.
This study has changed my perspective and I now think it is something that may actually be quite feasible.