UK plans early warning system to tackle next pandemic

Covid-19 has killed more than 6.9 million people globally

The security strategy aims to use the lessons of Covid-19 to respond to threats such as new pandemics and bioweapons. EPA
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An early detection system backed by billions of pounds in investment will help to protect the UK from future pandemics.

The biothreats radar will warn about risks from evolving diseases and bioweapons, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said on Monday.

Since Covid-19 was first identified in Wuhan, China, in 2019, it has killed more than 6.9 million people and there have been about 767 million cases.

The new system will bring together data from across government and trusted sources to give scientists and political leaders a comprehensive picture of biological threats or developing crises.

It is part of the government’s new biological security strategy that is supported by £1.5 billion ($1.9 billion) of investment each year.

“Covid was the biggest peacetime challenge in a century and we must be diligent in preparing for future threats on this scale,” Mr Dowden said.

“This plan and our £1.5 billion investment per year puts us in a strong position to defeat the biological threats of tomorrow – from diseases to bioweapons and antimicrobial resistance.

“It’s a strong and ambitious approach – one that harnesses the sheer ingenuity of the UK’s researchers and scientists and deploys our world-class crisis management capabilities to protect the people of the UK.”

The biological security strategy aims to use the lessons of Covid-19 to understand, detect, prevent or respond to biological threats including new pandemics and bioweapons.

The government’s chief scientific adviser Prof Dame Angela McLean said: “The Covid-19 pandemic showed just how critical it is to have a coherent plan to both protect the UK from the increasingly complex range of biological risks and build on the UK’s strengths in vaccine research and development and life sciences.

“The new biological security strategy will make an important contribution to our preparedness.”

The first Covid cases were reported in China in 2019 and initials efforts to stop the spread largely failed.

Lockdown orders followed across countries and continents as governments feared what the new illness could do.

The race for a vaccine began almost as quickly, with the first becoming available about a year later.

Looking back, some scientists believe the Covid-19 pandemic could have been much worse.

Immunologist Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, said that if the highly infectious Omicron variant had been the first Covid strain to emerge in Wuhan, there could have been significantly more deaths worldwide.

Updated: June 12, 2023, 3:31 AM