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Future Pandemic Preparedness

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2023

Lessons from covid-19 have been incorporated into our planning for any future pandemics across a range of areas. That includes the need to prepare for infections through all five routes of transmission, and for the health and social care sectors to have flexible capabilities that can adapt to a range of health threats.

My hon. Friend may have heard that news is emerging from China of yet another respiratory disease spreading through that country. What mechanisms are in place to learn from the covid inquiry when it finishes its work, so that if mistakes were made, we do not make them again in the event that, God forbid, we have another pandemic?

First, early indications show that the respiratory illnesses in China are likely to be due to increasing levels of endemic infection. These are normal infections but at a higher level.

Secondly, we are not waiting for the covid inquiry before we implement lessons learned. One of the key changes we have already made is the introduction of the UK Health Security Agency, which carries out surveillance on both national and international threats. A good example of its work is last year’s strep A outbreak, which it managed and contained very well. This year, the identification of a new covid variant—not a variant of concern—meant we brought forward our autumn vaccination roll-out.

For all of us who lost loved ones, covid-19 is still very raw. I have been following the covid inquiry, and two recommendations have so far come forward. The first is that the lockdown should have been earlier, and the second is that those with covid should not have been sent to care homes—covid went through care homes and cast death everywhere. Has the Minister taken those two lessons on board?

I know the hon. Gentleman had a personal loss to covid, and he is absolutely right to highlight those lessons learned. We are learning lessons, but each pandemic or increase in infection is different. It may have been appropriate to have lockdowns for covid-19, but lockdowns may not be appropriate for other infections, such as strep A or other respiratory illnesses. We set up the UKHSA to provide expert advice. We are learning lessons from the covid inquiry, and we are already taking action.