As researchers from the World Health Organization prepare to issue a report about the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the body of knowledge gathered in the bat caves and wildlife farms of southern China is being used to determine the likelihood of another coronavirus outbreak that could end up becoming a pandemic.
The findings from a trip to the Yunnan province, during which investigators trapped hundreds of bats, yielded the detection of dozens of coronavirus variants with properties very similar to SARS and SARS-CoV-2. This rich viral diversity makes it likely for another major outbreak to occur, but there is no telling when this may happen.
Most epidemics never develop into pandemics; it takes a genetic fluke and a host of circumstances for this to happen, but the pathogens are certainly there. The contagion chain is something that humans can control, but only to a certain point.
The timing of a pandemic is less certain than trying to predict earthquakes. The influenza pandemic that killed millions of people a little over a century ago could happen again in 10, 20, 50, or 500 years; it is simply impossible to forecast global health events.