Another brand-new disease pandemic is a “realistic possibility” by 2030, the UK government has warned in the biggest review of threats to the UK since the Cold War.
The 120-page Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy warns a disease outbreak with the impact of Covid-19 could be just a few years away.
And it is made more likely by more intense agriculture and loss of habitats, which will increase human-animal contact.
It comes after Covid wreaked the worst financial havoc on the UK economy for three centuries.
In his foreword to the Integrated Review, the Prime Minister said when work began on the document in early 2020 “we could not have anticipated how a coronavirus would trigger perhaps the greatest international crisis since the Second World War, with tragic consequences that will persist for years to come”.
“Covid-19 has reminded us that security threats and tests of national resilience can take many forms.”
The document adds: “Infectious disease outbreaks are likely to be more frequent to 2030.
“Many will be zoonoses – diseases caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites that spread from animals to humans – as population growth drives the intensification of agriculture and as the loss of habitats increases interaction between humans and animals.
“Another novel pandemic remains a realistic possibility.”
The report also warns that on current trends, global deaths related to antimicrobial resistance will rise from 700,000 to 20 million per year by 2050.
The review sets out the need for national and international measures to prepare for another pandemic.
“The Government will continue to prepare for and respond to individual risks, whether terrorism, flooding or a new pandemic,” the report said.
“Learning the lessons of Covid-19, we will also seek to build a better understanding of the UK’s strengths and weaknesses, and improve our national preparedness and readiness across the whole risk lifecycle, from anticipation to recovery.”
A new “national resilience strategy” will set out a “whole-of-society approach” with individuals, businesses and organisations all playing a part.
The Government will also improve “surveillance, understanding and communication of emerging domestic and cross-border health threats, including zoonoses”, with planning to ensure the resilience of medical supply chains.
When coronavirus hit, the Government was forced to rapidly scale-up its testing capacity and engage in a scramble to obtain personal protective equipment.
The Government has now committed to “review our national stockpile of clinical countermeasures and consumables such as personal protective equipment, expanded testing capability and laboratory equipment”.
Mr Johnson has already pushed for international action, using the UK’s G7 presidency to call for the development of vaccines to be cut to 100 days and the possibility of an international treaty on pandemic preparedness.