They have not yet managed to secure the money to continue their Nipah virus work. Without it, they say, a potentially catastrophic outbreak is more likely.
"The long-term surveillance helps us… inform authorities [to enact] preventive measures and to prevent undetected spillover which would cause bigger outbreak," says Duong. And without continued training, scientists might not be able to identify and characterise new viruses rapidly, as Wacharapluesadee did with Covid-19 in Thailand. This information is needed to start working on a vaccine.
When we spoke in June 2020 via video call, I asked if Wacharapluesadee was proud of her team's remarkable achievement. "Proud?" she said. "Yes, I am proud.
"But the Predict project was an exercise on how to diagnose novel viruses from wild animals. So when me and my team found the genome of the [coronavirus pathogen] it's not too much [of a] surprise, because of the research project. It gave us a lot of experience. It strengthened our capacity," she said.
Duong and Wacharapluesadee hope to continue collaborating to fight Nipah virus in South East Asia, and the pair have drafted a proposal for Nipah virus surveillance in the region together. They plan to submit it to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a US governmental organisation which funds work aimed at reducing the threats posed by infectious disease agents, once the Covid-19 crisis subsides.
In September 2020 I asked Wacharapluesadee if she thinks she can stop the next pandemic. She was sitting in her office in her white lab coat, having processed hundreds of thousands of samples to test for Covid-19 in the past months – far beyond the usual capacity of her lab in any more usual year.
Despite it all, a smile broke across her face. "I will try!" she said.
With additional reporting by Mora Piseth in Cambodia.
Reporting for this story, part of our series Stopping the Next One, was supported with funding from the Pulitzer Center.