The world is still at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, and it will take some time to work out how to deal with it, World Health Organization special envoy on Covid-19 Dr David Nabarro has said.
Addressing MPs during a sitting of Westminster's Foreign Affairs Committee, Dr Nabarro described the present situation as horrible and grotesque.
He said the outbreak is worse than any science fiction movie, and appears to be getting nastier as cases reemerge in Europe.
Dr Nabarro told MPs: "None of us find the present situation, anything other than horrible grotesque, really embarrassing.
"It's a terrible situation, a health issue has got so out of control it's knocking the world into, not just a recession, but a huge economic contraction which would probably double the number of poor people, double the number of malnourished, lead to hundreds of millions of small businesses going bankrupt."
He added there was also a risk of the pandemic ruining educational opportunities for a lot of children around the world.
Dr Nabarro said: "It's awful. And we really, really are, all of us, deeply saddened and troubled by it.
"But that applies to most people in our world who are all having to make sense of something that they couldn't imagine.
"It's much worse than any of the science fiction about pandemics. This is really serious - we're not even in the middle of it yet. We're still at the beginning of it.
"And we're beginning to see what damage it's going to cause the world. And it's getting nastier as we go into this particular phase in Europe of watching the thing come back again."
His comments came in response to a question from Labour MP Chris Bryant, who asked what he should tell his constituents who believe Covid-19 is just a big conspiracy.
Dr Nabarro said that he understood why people thought such things, and that everyone would love to find a convenient explanation for the virus.
He added: "I think we've got to entertain the fact that everybody everywhere is looking for an explanation, and we need to level with them and say 'we quite understand it'.
"We know how absolutely awful this is for so many hundreds of millions of people.
"Based on my understanding this virus was visited on us at the very end of last year, and we've been learning to live with it for this year, and we will make sense of it, and we will be able to work out how to do it, but it's going to take us quite a bit longer."
World 'dangerously unprepared for the next pandemic' - report
A collective failure by political leaders to heed warnings and prepare for an infectious disease pandemic has transformed "a world at risk" to a "world in disorder", according to a report on international epidemic preparedness.
The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, an independent body created by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, warns that the world is dangerously unprepared for the next pandemic.
In its annual report, the board says the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed a collective failure to take pandemic prevention, preparedness and response seriously and prioritise it accordingly.
It adds that the pandemic has demonstrated the fragility of highly interconnected economies and social systems, and the fragility of trust.
It is calling for five urgent actions to be taken to bring order out of the catastrophe and chaos currently facing the world: responsible leadership; engaged citizenship; strong and agile systems for health security; sustained investment; and robust global governance of preparedness.
In its initial report last year, published a few months before the coronavirus emerged as a threat, the board warned that there was a real threat of "a rapidly spreading pandemic due to a lethal respiratory pathogen" and warned such an event could kill millions and wreak havoc on the global economy.
This year's report - titled A World in Disorder - said world leaders had never before "been so clearly forewarned of the dangers of a devastating pandemic", and yet they had failed to take adequate action.
"Pathogens thrive in disruption and disorder. Covid-19 has proven the point."
The board says the staggering cost of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic dwarfs what it would have cost to prepare adequately for it.
The report notes that despite calling a year ago for heads of government to commit and invest in pandemic preparedness, for health systems to be strengthened and for financial risk planning to take seriously the threat of a devastating pandemic, little progress had been made on any of these.
A lack of leadership, it said, is exacerbating the current pandemic.
"Failure to learn the lessons of Covid-19 or to act on them with the necessary resources and commitment will mean that the next pandemic, which is sure to come, will be even more damaging," it said.