Susan Rice warns COVID-19 'is not the big one,' future pandemic could be worse

Rice also says she expects Biden to rejoin the World Health Organization and make the U.S. “part of the global effort to stamp out the virus" through COVAX, the global vaccine partnership

Published: December 18, 2020 6:29pm

Updated: December 18, 2020 11:15pm

Former United Nations ambassador Susan Rice, slated to become the Domestic Policy Council chief if Joe Biden assumes the White House next month, is warning that COVID-19 outbreak “is not the big one” and that a future pandemic could be worse.

“In the Obama administration, as I said, we had the 2009 swine flu; we had the Ebola epidemic that could have been a global pandemic; we had the Zika virus, as you'll remember, so we were very prime to this risk. We knew that we hadn't had the big one,” Rice said during a virtual event organized by Stevenson University’s speaker series.

“And by the way, I hate to be a downer here, but this is not the big one, either. This, sorry, but, you know, this would be the big one if it had the kind of mortality rates that you can get with a virulent avian flu. We have a mortality rate of, you know, 2 to 3%, roughly, now for COVID, which is — and you see how deadly that is when it's not under control. Imagine if it were that much higher,” she added.

Rice, former National Security Advisor in the Obama administration, said the U.S. would rejoin the World Health Organization, as President-elect Joe Biden has promised. Rice also said she expects the Biden administration to make the U.S. a “part of the global effort to stamp out the virus" through COVAX, the global vaccine partnership.

“It's not enough for the United States to get ourselves vaccinated to the point where we have, you know, a sufficient population immunity. It's vitally important to our health and security that everyone else around the world achieve the same access to the vaccine, and develop the same degree of population immunity,” she said.

“If that doesn't happen, what will happen is that this virus, this COVID-19, will evolve, not little mutations, but an evolution that makes it have a materially different type that is another wave of pandemic. It can come back and spread around the world and start us on this path again, where we'll have to scramble for a different vaccine so that's what we've got to avoid,” she added.

Rice said shutting down the U.S. border and taking care of the U.S. population during the pandemic is a “short-sighted” approach.

“I think there's this short-sighted perception that, frankly, I think the current administration has stoked, that all we need to do is, you know, close off our borders and take care of ourselves, and this thing will go away,” she said. “Well, that's not how it works. It's not that simple.”

Rice elaborated on her new role in a Biden administration.

“The short answer is I will be the National Security Advisor for domestic policy. That's the way I like to summarize it,” she said.

Rice said she wants to enhance coordination between the various agencies working on the same domestic issues.

“We need to coordinate them. We need to be making sure that they're all on the same policy page, and that they're marching in lockstep to accomplish the implementation objectives and it hasn't always worked with that degree of precision,” she said. “That's what we tried to do on the national security side, obviously, not without, you know, failures and missteps on occasion. But the process and the structure that we have on national security decision making, can and should be replicated on the economic side and the domestic policy side.”

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