Foresight is too late in hindsight.
The UK Covid Inquiry, Chaired by Dame Heather Hallett, is underway with some big names from past politics under cross-examination. It reminds me vividly of how hard we at PPL-Biosafety pushed at the start of the pandemic and the UK lockdowns in 2020 to inform politicians, their scientific advisors and the media not to allow this Coronavirus pathogen to be treated similarly to Influenza. But they did.
It may be satisfying to some to hear that admission now but it doesn’t recover the enormous human loss, damage and economic impact on society that is still ongoing today. Other tools were available that could have avoided lockdowns and mitigated the impact of the pandemic but at the end of the day, experts and advisors can only make recommendations to the decision-makers, and it rests with the Government of the time to make the Policy decisions.
It would be extremely surprising if it is not raised during the UK Covid-19 Inquiry but 20 years ago, the first Covid pandemic in South East Asia caused the government of the time to commission a crucial report, “Foresight. Infectious Diseases: preparing for the future” – published in 2006
Th report predicts the zoonotic disease risks from animals jumping species across to humans, probably most likely to arise in Asia again and these, are closely linked to airborne pathogens such as coronaviruses causing pandemics in the form of Acute Respiratory Illnesses (ARIs) (Pages 44 and 45 particularly refer). A couple of extracts from the report :
“3h Acute respiratory infections”
….. it is anticipated that new ARIs could spread around the world very rapidly (in weeks) and could cause millions of deaths worldwide, and tens of thousands in the UK alone.
Epidemic ARIs are associated with zoonotic origins: SARS with live animal markets in south-east Asia; ”
Every main UK Political Party has been in power or shared power in the time since the Foresight report was published back in 2006 and yet, they were warned – the contents of this report predicted very accurately what risks could be expected. It is obvious that there have been enormous failings and hopefully, the Inquiry will make recommendations to make sure we are better protected and more pandemic-resilient in the future.