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UK Gov’t Accused of ’Disgraceful Cover-Up’ of 2016 Report Warning of Pandemic Response Shortcomings

UK Gov’t Accused of ’Disgraceful Cover-Up’ of 2016 Report Warning of Pandemic Response Shortcomings
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By Staff, Agencies

The British government of Boris Johnson has been accused of covering up a report compiled in 2016 that had alerted it to major shortcomings in its response to a potential pandemic, according to The Guardian.

A planning exercise by Public Health England commissioned in February 2016 and code-named Exercise Alice, had war-gamed a response to an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome [MERS-CoV], which, similar to COVID-19, results in potentially fatal respiratory illness and is able to spread asymptomatically.

The previously unpublished 23-page report pertaining to the health planning drill commissioned by Dame Sally Davies, then chief medical officer, was released on Thursday under freedom of information laws.

The file stated that the response-modelling exercise revealed three areas as riddled with shortcomings. According to the health experts, to gear up to face a “large scale outbreak” the country needed to stock up on Personal Protective Equipment [PPE], put in place a contact tracing system and introduce enhanced screening for foreign travelers.

The health officials behind the report underscored the vital importance of “port of entry screening” for arrivals from abroad. Health officials were called upon to “produce an options plan using extant evidence and cost benefits for quarantine versus self-isolation for a range of contact types, including symptomatic, asymptomatic and high risk groups.”

The exercise suggested “a web-based tool … a live database of contacts with classifications, current state and other data germane to the situation” to enhance tracing the contacts of people who potentially contracted the virus.

The government was advised to arrange for “sleeping contracts” that would subsequently enable swift trials of vaccines and therapies.

In August the UK government refused to release the report, arguing it could “lead to loss of public confidence in the government’s and the NHS’ Covid-19 response … based on misinterpretation of the report,” stated the outlet.

From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than 137,417 lives so far, according to the government’s figures, some key areas emphasized in the report had become challenging issues.

In March 2020 nurses and care workers reported chronic shortages of PPE. Furthermore, as cases soared, the UK government continued to allow people to enter the country unscreened from China and Italy, which were coronavirus hotspots at the time.

The UK government launched its National Health Service [NHS] test-and-trace service on 28 May 2020 - over two months after the first pandemic lockdown was introduced. The system was slammed for failings in the summer of 2020, with the proportion of close contacts of infected people being reached registered as far below the 80% level needed for it to be effective.

Throughout the current coronavirus pandemic, the UK government has faced criticism over its handling of the initial response to the health crisis.