About the COVID-19 Outcome Scenarios Project

In early 2021, the ISC launched the COVID-19 Outcome Scenarios project, with the aim of outlining a range of scenarios over the mid- and long-term to assist our understanding of the options for achieving an optimistic and fair end to the pandemic.

The Council ascertained that decisions to be made over the coming months need to be informed not only by short-term priorities. Providing such an analysis to policy makers and citizens can lead to more optimistic rather than pessimistic outcomes.

It has now been over two years since the novel coronavirus started to spread around the world and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” on 30 January 2020. Though science uncovered much about the virus and made extraordinary and unprecedented progress the development of effective vaccines, there is still great uncertainty as the pandemic continues to evolve. Indeed, the virus can probably never be globally eradicated, because of its presence in many animals and because of incomplete vaccine coverage, so ongoing strategies for dealing with endemic presence in populations over the long-term are needed.

While policymakers and the public have mostly focused on the health aspects of the pandemic, there has been an overwhelming reliance on the availability of vaccines to end the crisis, with little attention being paid to many other consequences of the pandemic. Hence, there is a need to identify the different crises and their plausible end game ‘scenarios’ to underline which decisions taken today by both global agencies and governments, and citizens, can lead to more optimistic or pessimistic scenarios.

This project results in a report which outlines these plausible scenarios to consider the options for achieving the most desirable end to the pandemic, highlighting that decisions made over the coming months and years need to be informed not only by short-term priorities but also by long-term challenges, and will serve as an analytical tool for policy-makers to lead to a more optimistic outcome to the pandemic.

The ISC as the independent, global voice for science, encompassing the natural, medical, social and data sciences, believes it is critical that the range of scenarios over the mid- and long-term is explored to assist our understanding of the options that will make better outcomes more likely.

Since the beginning of 2021, in developing its COVID-19 Outcome Scenarios Project, the ISC has consulted with both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and has established a multidisciplinary Oversight Panel made up of globally representative high-ranking world experts in relevant disciplines to work with the ISC “technical team” to produce the report.

On 17 May 2022, the Panel reported back to the global community on the need to support the shift in thinking that is required to achieve a more comprehensive ‘worldview’ of pandemics and similar emergencies, with the report presenting tools to map policy domains and scenarios and to observe interactions over approximately a five-year timeline.

Anticipated impact:

  • The report, launched on 17 May 2022, is expected to assist and inform policy and public understanding of plausible scenarios as the pandemic evolves. Watch the recording of the launch event here.
  • The report intends to enable policy-makers to grasp the key dimensions that provide evidence-based insights that support decision-making, in order to achieve an optimistic and sustainable end to the pandemic.

Key Milestones:

✅ In February 2021, the ISC established a multidisciplinary Oversight Panel for the project made up of globally representative high-ranking world experts in relevant and different disciplines to work with the ISC “technical team” to produce the report.

✅ On 16 February 2021, members of the Oversight Panel, alongside Peter Gluckman and Heide Hackmann, published an article in the Lancet on the topic of “Future scenarios for the COVID-19 pandemic”, announcing the project.

✅ A side-event at the UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on the topic of “Enhancing Policy-making During an Emergency: Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic” was broadcast on 17 May 2021. The event, led by Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to DRR, gave way to a lively discussion between panellists Peter PiotChristiane WoopenElizabeth JelinClaudio Struchiner and Inès Hassan.

✅ The COVID-19 Scenarios project team held regional workshops during July & August 2021 (South-East Asia, North America, Europe, Western Pacific, Africa/MENA, Latin America/Caribbean), inviting ISC Members and the wider scientific community to suggest individuals to provide input on understanding the likely outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic.

✅ August 2021 saw the publication of Peter Gluckman’s op-ed on “COVID-19’s ticking clock”, describing how societal cohesion, mental health, wellbeing, and even democracy may all be at stake if lessons are not learned quickly from the pandemic.

✅ During the ISC’s General Assembly in October 2021, as part of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, the ISC and the UNDRR held a special event to discuss the importance of systems thinking and global cooperation to improve long-term outcomes of global emergencies. The ISC presented the high-level outcomes of the COVID-19 Outcomes Scenarios project after eight months of research and analysis.

✅ In November 2021, as part of the ISC-BBC StoryWorks partnership for the Unlocking Science series, the ISC released the “The ‘clocks’ COVID-19 set ticking” video story.

✅ On 17 May 2022, the ISC launched the report of the project Unprecedented & Unfinished: COVID-19 and Implications for National and Global Policy, in Geneva, Switzerland, alongside the WHO and UNDRR. Watch the recording of the launch event here.

✅ On 29 June 2022, the ISC held an event to discuss “Unprecedented and Unfinished: COVID policy futures”, inviting National Academies and regional bodies of sciences, health and medicine to an introduction to the ISC’s COVID report.

✅ On 15 July 2022, the ISC held an online session at the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) entitled ‘Rolling the dice or planning ahead with confidence? New COVID-19 Report maps out our most realistic, pessimistic, and optimistic scenarios’ which presented the report. Watch the recording.

✅ On 13 May 2023 the ISC released the Second Edition of Unprecedented and Unfinished

Next steps

🟡 ISC Members are invited to engage policy-makers in implementing the recommendations of the Second Edition. Contact James Waddell for more information.

Image by Taylor Brandon on Unsplash.


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