Pandora Report: 4.2.2021

March 26th marked the 46th anniversary of when the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) entered into force. England just launched the UK Health Security Agency to plan for, prevent, and respond to external health threats. On 7 April, the Schar School of Policy and Government is hosting a virtual open house to showcase its graduate programs.

Event – Schar School Master’s and Certificate Virtual Open House

The Schar School of Policy and Government is hosting its last virtual open house of the spring semester! This online session will provide an overview of our master’s degree programs and graduate certificate programs, student services, and admissions requirements. The open house is scheduled or 7 April at 6:30 PM EST. Register here.

WHO Report on Pandemic’s Origins

The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was written by 17 international experts selected by the WHO and approved by China. The standout conclusion of the report is that it is “extremely unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 leaked out of a Chinese laboratory that was already studying coronaviruses, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).” The report describes four likely scenarios: (1) transmission from an animal reservoir, such as a bat, to another host and then humans; (2) direct spillover into humans from an animal reservoir; (3) spillover from the frozen meat of an infected animal; and (4) a laboratory incident. These four scenarios range from “very likely” to “extremely unlikely,” respectively. Fourteen countries, including the US, have cast their doubts about the report and its veracity based on the lack of data and samples. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, acknowledged that the “experts found it difficult to get raw data and that the report did not gather sufficient evidence from which to garner concrete conclusions.” The report also points out the zoonotic source of SARS-CoV-2 remains unknown and that it is “not possible to determine precisely how humans in China were initially infected with SARS-CoV-2.”

Mason has 8 Graduate Programs Listed Among Top 25 Nationally

Eight graduate programs at George Mason University were listed in the top 25 nationally by the US News & World Report. At the Schar School of Policy and Government, the homeland security and international policy programs were among the top 10 nationally for public universities. Five of the Schar School’s specialties – homeland security, international policy, local government management, public management, and nonprofit management – ranked as the top program in the state and two – homeland security and international policy – ranked in the top five in the country among public institutions. GMU is the largest public research university in Virginia, spanning three campuses in Fairfax, Arlington, and Manassas.

New UK Health Security Agency

On 1 April, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) was established with Dr. Jenny Harries at the helm as the Chief Executive. This new agency will plan for, prevent, and respond to external health threats, including infectious diseases. The UKHSA will be England’s “leader for health security, providing intellectual, scientific and operational leadership at national and local level, as well as on the global stage.” Dr. Harries has served on the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and she played critical roles in England’s responses to COVID-19, Ebola, Zika, monkeypox, MERS, and the Novichok attacks.

BWC Newsletter from UNODA

The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) released its latest issue of the BWC newsletter. Last week, on 26 March, marked the 46th anniversary of when the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) entered into force. There is a revised schedule for the 2021 BWC meetings: The Meetings of Experts are planned to take place from 30 August to 8 September 2021 and the Meeting of States Parties is planned to take place from 22 to 25 November 2021. All meetings will take place in Geneva, Switzerland. Upcoming BWC activities include the second series of informal webinars for informal discussions and exchanges of views to precede the Meeting of Experts, and the launch of Fiji’s National Preparedness Programme with online training for the Preparation and Submission of Confidence Building Measures under the BWC. Read the latest newsletter here.

CBRN Defence Capabilities Within the Biological Defence Domain Based on COVID-19 Lessons Learned

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how unprepared the world and NATO were to handle a public health emergency of this magnitude, despite improvements in civil and military biodefense as well as emergency management informed by previous pandemics. NATO’s security and resilience are contingent upon the organization and its member states being prepared for future epidemics and pandemics. The Joint CBRN Defence Centre of Excellence (JCBRND Defence COE) introduced a comprehensive report to address chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) defense capabilities within the biodefense space based on observations, lessons identified, and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. The JCBRN Defence COE intends to provide CBRN expertise and experience to the benefit of the Alliance in prevention, protection, and recovery. In addition, “the JCBRN Defence COE intends to continue to provide operations support to NATO’s current and future crisis efforts; especially with its CBRN reachback, modelling and simulation, and strategic-level and operational-level planning.” See a presentation of the report here.

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: A Decade of Atrocities and the Path to a Global Zero Use Policy

More than ten years ago, the people of Syria peacefully protested the government of Bashar al-Assad, which responded with gunfire, arbitrary detentions, and torture. The atrocities continue with the regime’s most horrendous tactic, deploying chemical weapons against Syrian civilians over 300 times. To discuss the history of Syria’s chemical weapons program and the steps the US and the world can take to address the threat of chemical weapons in Syria, Joby Warrick, Washington Post national security reporter and author of the recently published book, Red Line: The Unraveling of Syria and America’s Race to Destroy the Most Dangerous Arsenal in the World, joined FDD experts Anthony Ruggiero, Andrea Stricker, and David Adesnik. The event, hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and its International Organizations Program, provided granular detail on steps the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has taken to hold the Syrian government to account, the obstructionist role the Russian Federation has played, and what the United States and international partners can do to achieve the goal of a global zero chemical weapons use policy in the future. Listen to the event or read the transcript here.

Schar School Students Advance to Final Rounds of Pandemic Controlling Simulation Competition

The NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition is a day-long event that allows graduate students in public policy and related fields to test their skills on real-world data in simulations developed by the Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. This year, five graduate students from the Schar School participated with more than 400 students representing 120 universities from across 30 countries. Three of the five Schar graduate students advanced to the final round! This simulation used data from past pandemics and the current COVID-19 pandemic to paint a situation akin to what the world is experiencing now. Dr. Gregory Koblentz, Director of the Biodefense Graduate Program, described the importance of these simulations: “These crisis simulations help students think through the challenges of pandemic response and understand what we need to do today to be better prepared for tomorrow. The simulation also reinforces a key lesson from COVID-19: That pandemics pose threats not just to public health, but to the economy, political stability, and national security.”

Podcast — Episode 22: The Coronavirus as Rubik’s Cube, Part 2

The latest episode of GMU’s Access to Excellence podcast features Dr. Saskia Popescu, an assistant professor in the Biodefense Graduate Program as well as an alumna, and Dr. Gregory Washington, President of the university. Their discussion covers public health, public policy, and the false dichotomy between public health and the economy. Listen here.

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