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The what, the how and the why of the pandemic

Online event

Event video


18:15 - 19:15


The Royal Society YouTube channel


Our panel of expert scientists explored the science behind the pandemic, and discussed what it is about this particular virus that makes it so infectious and potentially life-threatening on an unprecedented global scale.

Image credit: Covid virus ©JONGHO SHIN

The coronavirus pandemic has dominated our lives for a large part of 2020. As we face a second wave of infections and national lockdowns, scientists are working around the world to develop effective vaccines. They are also trying to understand how this strain of virus differs from other coronaviruses in the severity of the disease it causes, and what are the long-term effects of contracting the infection. Scientific research has never had to advance so fast to find solutions to a global public health crisis.

Bringing together leaders in their field, this discussion explored our current understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and looked to answer some of those burning questions: What do we currently know? How is science being used in the battle against COVID? Why has the pandemic been so devastating? We interrogated what the pandemic has revealed about society’s vulnerability to future infectious diseases, as well as exploring the past and future policy trade-offs that are the result of our ever-shifting knowledge about the disease. 


  • Dr Anjana Ahuja, Science Writer (event host)
  • Professor Dame Anne Johnson DBE PMedSci, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, UCL and President of the Academy of Medical Sciences
  • Professor Sir John Bell GBE FMedSci HonFREng FRS, Regius Professor of Medicine, University of Oxford
  • Dr Nicole Robb, Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow and Assistant Professor, Warwick Medical School
  • Sir Jeremy Farrar OBE FMedSci FRS, Director, The Wellcome Trust

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