The UK was “asleep” to the threat of a global pandemic before the eruption of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, a leading health expert has warned.
Sir John Bell, Oxford University’s regius professor of medicine, told MPs on Tuesday that officials had failed to get Britain on the “front foot” in preparation for a pandemic despite several “close calls” with emerging infectious diseases in recent decades.
“The fact that we were asleep to the concept that we were going to have a pandemic, I think, shame on us,” he told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee.
“Since the year 2000 we’ve had eight close calls of emerging infectious diseases, any one of which could have swept the globe as a pandemic.
“This is not new and I think we should not be proud of the fact that we ended up with a system which had no resilience to pandemics. I think the biggest single failure was not being on the front foot.”
Sir Bell went on to compare the UK’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic to Singapore, which he said had started “preparing for trouble” at the beginning of January, shortly after the first cases were recorded in Wuhan, China, in December.
“It took us very much to the end of February beginning of March to get going,” he said, referencing Britain’s efforts.
“I think that’s the single biggest failure and I think a lot of things fall out from that.”
Sir Bell’s comments came as figures published on Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that just over 56,100 deaths involving Covid-19 have now been registered in the UK.
The ONS’ data showed that 51,096 deaths involving Covid-19 had occurred in England and Wales up to July 10, and had been registered by July 18.
Figures published last week by the National Records for Scotland showed that 4,187 deaths involving Covid-19 had been registered in Scotland up to July 12, while 844 deaths had occurred in Northern Ireland up to July 10, and had been registered up to July 15, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.
Together, the figures mean that so far 56,127 deaths have been registered throughout the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, including suspected cases.
Meanwhile, countries worldwide including the US, South Africa and India are struggling to hold down rising rates of coronavirus as global deaths from Covid-19 surge past the 600,000 mark.