PHE never believed Covid-19 would ‘travel this far’, says ex-chief medical officer
Conviction that virus would ‘die out’ left UK on back foot for rolling out mass testing and contract tracing systems
Public Health England (PHE) never believed that Covid-19 would “travel this far” from Asia and prepared for the “wrong pandemic”, according to England’s former chief medical officer.
In an upcoming address to a public inquiry into the UK’s response to the virus, Sally Davies “will say the scientific advice to focus on the threat from influenza meant the UK never put plans in place for mass testing and contact tracing”, reports The Telegraph.
This meant that “unlike other countries who managed to keep Covid largely under control”, contingency plans had not been prepared when the pandemic arrived in the UK, the paper adds.
Davies - who handed over the advisory role to Professor Chris Whitty last year - says that she asked PHE in 2015 whether the government should rehearse for an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars), another type of coronavirus. She claims to have been told by the health body that a coronavirus would “die out” before it reached the UK, and would “never travel this far”.
In her first interview since leaving the chief medical officer post, she told The Telegraph: “We were not as well prepared as we should have been... I think the public deserves to know everything.”
Last year, the Global Health Security Index rated the UK as one of the countries best prepared for a pandemic, along with the US, France and Australia. Yet all four nations have been hit hard by the Covid pandemic, with the UK and US reporting some of the worst outcomes.
The number of people in Britain who have lost their lives to Covid passed 50,000 this week, according to government figures - the first country in Europe to reach the grim milestone. A further 595 deaths were announced on Wednesday, the highest figure since 12 May.
The government is also concerned by a steep rise in daily confirmed coronavirus cases, just over a week after the UK began its second national lockdown. Cases increased by 46% yesterday to 33,470, “with officials fearing the jump a result of pre-lockdown partying”, The Times reports.