June 16, 2024

The former Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government Sir Patrick Vallance said another pandemic was “absolutely inevitable” and urged the incoming UK government to focus on preparing for it, warning “we are not ready yet”.

Speaking at a panel event at the Hay Festival in Powys, Vallance said it was “wonderful that we are having an election” as there are “obviously issues that need to be sorted out”. One of the things the next government needs to do is to “implement better surveillance to be able to pick these things up”, he said.

He also repeated what he told G7 leaders in 2021, that “we need to be much faster, much more aligned – and there are ways to do that – to get rapid diagnostic tests, rapid vaccines, rapid treatments, so you have to go into the extreme measures that took place” during the Covid-19 pandemic. The measures he recommends are possible to implement, Vallance believes, but “require some coordination”.

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He said that by 2023 the G7 had “pretty much forgotten” the points it made in 2021. “You can’t forget about it,” he urged, recommending that pandemic preparations be treated the same way as the armed forces.

“We know we have to have a military, not because there’s going to be a war this year, but we know it’s an important part of what we need as a nation,” he said. “We need to treat this preparedness in the same way and not see it as an easy thing to keep cutting when there is no sign of a pandemic – because there won’t be a sign of a pandemic.”

He mentioned the World Health Organization’s pressure for the pandemic agreement, a proposed agreement for countries to work together to prepare for pandemics, as one of the “steps in the right direction” being taken. “But I don’t think there’s enough focus,” he said. If this issue is moved off G7 and G20 agendas, “we will be in exactly the same position, and I hope that is an important outcome of the inquiry”.

That said, he said there were problems with the speed and efficiency of how inquiries were made, and said we had to “work out a better way” to do it.

Although Vallance thinks it is time for an election, he did praise the outgoing government’s anti-smoking bill and said he was disappointed it would not pass before the election. “I think it should be picked up quickly after that.”

Asked whether protesters should have been allowed to play Things Can Only Be Better during Rishi Sunak’s speech outside 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, he said he thought such protests were “part of our democracy” and that Sunak and his team’s decision not to not find a place. because the speech where he could be heard “is a sign of incompetence”.

“The chaos of that event was emblematic,” he said.

However, he believes certain acts of protest cross a line. Vallance is the chairman of the Natural History Museum and said he thought an incident where paint was thrown over an exhibit was “wrong”, and had the Just stop Oil protesters succeeded in damaging Magna Carta earlier this month, that too would have been wrong.

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