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Yes, WHO report warns of global flu outbreak that could circle world in 36 hours, kill 80 million people

“Outbreak of a flu-like illness could circulate the world in 36 hours and kill 80 million people, warns report by former World Health Organization chief.”

That’s the terrifying headline of a September 2019 article in the Daily Mail, a UK tabloid newspaper.

The story was shared on Facebook in South Africa and flagged as possibly false by the social network’s fact-checking system. This prompted Africa Check to investigate.

Is the headline correct?

Preparedness for global health emergencies

The document the article talks about is A World at Risk, an annual report on how ready the world is to deal with major health emergencies, such as outbreaks of disease.

The most recent version was published in September 2019 by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, an independent monitoring and accountability body set up by the World Health Organization to “advance the common objective of ensuring preparedness for global health emergencies”, its website says.

The GPMB has two co-chairs. One is Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former prime minister of Norway and director-general of the WHO from 1998 to 2003. The other is Elhadj As Sy, the secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

World travel times 36 hours

In the executive summary of A World at Risk, the GPMB declares that the world “is not prepared for a fast-moving, virulent respiratory pathogen pandemic”.

“The 1918 global influenza pandemic sickened one third of the world population and killed as many as 50 million people – 2.8% of the total population,” it says.

The 1918 pandemic, caused by a form of bird flu, was the most severe worldwide pandemic in recent history.

“If a similar contagion occurred today with a population four times larger and travel times anywhere in the world less than 36 hours, 50-80 million people could perish,” the GPMB report says.

“In addition to tragic levels of mortality, such a pandemic could cause panic, destabilize national security and seriously impact the global economy and trade.”

Yes, a report produced by a body co-chaired by a former head of the World Health Organization has warned that a flu-like illness could circulate the world in 36 hours and kill up to 80 million people, if we continue to be unprepared. – Sam Ancer

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