Pandemics are a significant stress test for a country’s economic, political and health systems. An effective pandemic response demands a multi-pronged and multi-layered approach, comprising surveillance, containment, border control, as well as various social and community measures. In the wake of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, which has now infected more than 7 million people worldwide, strict quarantine measures are a commonplace, and a third of the world’s population have now gone into some form of lockdown. With the exception of border control, all these response measures involve the contributions of family physicians and general practitioners (GPs) in one way or another. Primary care physicians form and lead the primary care network, which in turn forms the backbone of any healthcare system. Being the first point of contact for a significant proportion of patients, primary care physicians play an essential strategic function in the fight against disease, both during peacetime and in the event of a public health crisis. In this commentary, we examine and propose some of the key roles that they play in a pandemic, drawing examples from the current COVID-19 pandemic and past experiences. COVID-19 has showed us that the world is grossly unprepared for a pandemic, both in terms of our global management and the structure of our current primary health care systems, and this should provide the impetus for us to improve.
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