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WHO to set up pandemic early-warning center in Germany

May 5, 2021

The World Health Organization will establish a center in Germany to monitor emerging pandemic threats in the hopes of preventing the next one. "Viruses move fast. But data can move even faster," the WHO's chief said.

A mask lays on the ground in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany
The center will start running in September in the German capital, BerlinImage: Sascha Steinach/dpa/picture alliance

Germany will house a new global data hub to detect emerging pandemic threats, the World Health Organization announced on Wednesday.

The WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence will start operating in Berlin in September. The center will quickly analyze data to predict, prevent, detect, prepare for, and respond to risks worldwide, it said.

It should also boost cooperation between countries and scientific institutes.

The hub should be able to detect pandemic signals earlier than current systems.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed gaps in the global systems for pandemic and epidemic intelligence," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists.

"There will be more viruses that will emerge with the potential for sparking epidemics or pandemics," he said. "Viruses move fast. But data can move even faster. With the right information, countries and communities can stay one step ahead of an emerging risk and save lives."

How artificial intelligence tracks COVID-19

Berlin a center for health research

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Berlin was already a center for health and digital research, with institutes such as the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.

"If that expertise is now supplemented by the WHO Hub, we will create a unique environment for pandemic and health research here in Berlin — an environment from which important action-oriented insights will emerge for governments and leaders around the world," she said in a video message.

She said the hub would bring together governmental, academic and private sectors.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said global systems were "insufficiently prepared" to handle outbreaks, mutations of existing pathogens, infection of previously unaffected populations and diseases' jumping from other animals to humans.

Germany will fund €30 million ($36 million) of the startup costs, but the ongoing budget is under discussion.

A WHO report on the origins of the pandemic found that the coronavirus may have originated as early as September 2019, well before its presence was officially recognized by the UN health agency.

aw/rs (AFP, dpa, AP)