The Report – Unprecedented & Unfinished: COVID-19 and Implications for National and Global Policy

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 Report – Unprecedented & Unfinished: COVID-19 and Implications for National and Global Policy

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.

Video from the #UnlockingScience series:

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.

Oversight Panel

Prof Salim Abdool Karim

(South Africa, ISC Vice President)

Prof Geoffrey Boulton

(UK, ISC Governing Board member)

Prof Craig Calhoun

(United States)

Prof George Gao


Sir Peter Gluckman

(ISC President)

Prof Eric Goosby

(United States)

Prof Elizabeth Jelin


Mr Chor Pharn Lee


Prof Peter Piot

(UK, Belgium)

Prof Lucia Reisch


Sir David Skegg

(New Zealand)

Ian Goldin

Prof Ian Goldin

(United Kingdom)


Ms Mami Mizutori

Assistant Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, UNDRR

Dr Soumya Swaminathan

WHO Chief Scientist

ISC Secretariat

Mathieu Denis

Senior Director

Alison Meston

Communications Director

David Kaplan

Senior Research Specialist

Nick Ishmael-Perkins

Senior Consultant

Photo of James Waddell

James Waddell

Science & Communications Officer


Inès Hassan

Project lead
Phase I

Anne Bardsley

Project lead
Phase II

Header photo by Manuel Peris Tirado on Unsplash.

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.

Unprecedented & Unfinished: COVID-19 and Implications for National and Global Policy

International Science Council, 2022. Unprecedented & Unfinished: COVID-19 and Implications for National and Global Policy. Paris, France, International Science Council. DOI: 10.24948/2022.03.

The ISC has developed a Creative Commons version of the report which can be reproduced and printed locally. Please contact for the print file.

Unprecedented & Unfinished: Key Messages

1. The pandemic has affected every society and is truly a global crisis.

  • Policymakers have focused predominantly on national solutions. However, a global crisis requires global and regional cooperation and solutions, in addition to well-thought-through national and local responses.

2. COVID-19 is not only a health crisis.

  • The pandemic has widened global inequalities, in terms of health, economics, development, science and technology, and has exacerbated inequalities in society itself.

3. COVID’s long echo will continue into the future and requires a coordinated global response which we are currently lacking.

  • We are currently not prioritizing policies to improve fundamental government services such as public health system capacity, the provision of care for vulnerable populations, the state of education systems, and access to mental health services.
  • Further critical factors include the spread of misinformation – particularly on social media –, geopolitical opportunism, poor access to capital markets for low- and middle-income nations, the weakening of the multilateral system, and loss of progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  • The world needs reinvigorated global cooperation, guided and based on scientific evidence, particularly around health and science.

Unprecedented & Unfinished: Key Recommendations

  • Global cooperation is essential as a core component of seeking remedies and ongoing protection. Shortcomings in the current multilateral system need to be reformed, both to continue to navigate the impact of COVID-19 and other potential risks related to climate change, geopolitical tensions, food security, and more.
  • To address widening global inequalities, governments must leverage the pandemic to reset focus on equitable distribution of the benefits of the hoped-for economic recovery. This includes recognizing the importance of inclusive governance, ensuring the supply of medical resources to developing countries, closing the digital divide in education, and mitigating social isolation arising from the pandemic.
  • Governments must review and reframe the way they assess risk, integrating it more formally into policy development. Governments need to take a systems approach to planning for risk, considering interconnected risks and consequences.
  • Governments must prioritize building and maintaining trust, helping strengthen societal cohesion, and foster cooperation and resilience. Community engagement should be a central activity in preparedness plans for pandemics, with a diversity of views heard.
  • There is a need to address the challenges of disinformation, and to strengthen pluralistic science advice systems to increase trust in science, thereby protecting societies from risks.
  • There is a need to invest in research and development for the public good. As a part of this, the UN should develop a more integrated approach to science, including an agreed UN scientific mechanism, so that challenges can be overcome by working toward common goals.
  • The need for policy learnings at the local, regional, national and international level must be increased. This includes sourcing multiple kinds of data and knowledge to learn what precipitated events and what went wrong, in order to develop better mechanisms to address future risks.

Image: A general view shows Serbian military personal setting up beds inside a hall at the Belgrade Fair to accommodate people suffering from mild symptoms of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on March 24, 2020.
Image credit: Vladimir Zivojinovic / AFP

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