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Civil Contingency Plans: Preparedness for a Future Pandemic

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 8 July 2021

What assessment he has made of the (a) adequacy of the Government’s civil contingency plans and (b) preparedness for a potential future pandemic. (902392)

We regularly assess contingency plans and preparedness for major risks, including pandemics. In December 2020, we updated the national risk register to include new risks. We are currently reviewing the Government’s national risk assessment methodology with external partners ahead of refreshing the internal national security risk assessment early next year.

Exercise Cygnus, carried out in 2016, found:

“The UK’s preparedness and response, in terms of its plans, policies and capability, is currently not sufficient to cope with the extreme demands of a severe pandemic”.

Key recommendations from the exercise on surge capacity, school closures and protecting care homes were not acted on, which ultimately led to the Government’s chaotic handling of covid-19. Given that the warning signs had been identified in this report, why did the Government handle the pandemic so woefully, and what is being done now to prevent this from ever happening again?

The flaw with Exercise Cygnus was with regard to the risk methodology that sat behind it, and I have given evidence to a number of Select Committees on that basis. The hon. Member will know that we have rectified that now by changing the methodology, so rather than just focus on high-risk situations that would have an incredible detrimental impact and are likely to happen, we also look at situations that would have such an impact but are less likely to happen. It is not just pandemics we have to prepare for; it is a whole raft of possible events. I think that methodology and the new risk register put us in a much stronger position.