Report: Pentagon knew of possible coronavirus threat for years

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The Pentagon was aware of the likelihood of a pandemic brought on by a novel coronavirus years ago, according to a 2017 internal document reported by The Nation.
The Pentagon was aware of the likelihood of a pandemic brought on by a novel coronavirus years ago, according to a 2017 internal document reported by The Nation.
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The Pentagon was aware of the likelihood of a pandemic brought on by a novel coronavirus years ago, predicting with startling accuracy shortages of masks, hospital beds and ventilators that could occur in an outbreak, according to a 2017 internal document reported by The Nation.

The 103-page document — which the magazine describes as an update to an earlier Defense Department pandemic influenza response plan — cites a novel respiratory illness as the "most likely and significant threat" in a pandemic situation.

The documents also warns that shortages of masks and ventilators would have a "significant impact on the availability of the global workforce."

"The intelligence community and the military were well aware of what could, and unfortunately, did happen" said Nation reporter Ken Klippenstein in an interview with NPR's All Things Considered.

Klippenstein reports that he obtained the document from a Pentagon official who requested anonymity. Klippenstein says the Pentagon has not responded to his requests for comment on the story.

Klippenstein told All Things Considered that within intelligence circles, a coronavirus has been viewed as a likely threat going back at least five years. And while President Trump has said the current COVID-19 pandemic "came out of nowhere," Klippenstein says it is "inconceivable that the White House did not receive this," referencing information contained in the 2017 Pentagon report.

Klippenstein adds," The threat of a highly transmissible pathogenic virus that targets the respiratory system, this was appreciated for at least the last 10 years."

The "USNORTHCOM Branch Plan 3560: Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Disease Response," as the document is titled, mentions past coronavirus outbreaks, including the MERS outbreak. The document notes that coronvavirus infections are also quite common worldwide.

Though unclassified, the Pentagon plan is an internal document intended to foresee the causes of and potentials hurdles to arise in a pandemic situation. It outlines scenarios that may arise during a global outbreak and options for how the military might respond. Within the document are also references to classified materials that could provide additional support to its conclusions.

The report's conclusions have foreshadowed many of the concerns currently being voiced by both elected officials and medical professionals over hospitals beds and medical equipment.

One section reads: "even the most industrialized countries will have insufficient hospital beds, specialized equipment such as mechanical ventilators, and pharmaceuticals readily available to adequately treat their populations during clinically severe pandemic."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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