UK to revamp biosecurity strategy in wake of Covid-19


The UK is revamping its approach to biosecurity after Covid-19 exposed major shortcomings in its ability to respond to biological threats, including the coronavirus pandemic.

The new approach will update Britain’s last biological security strategy, published in 2018, which warned of the need to “co-ordinate” government actions better and for a “truly comprehensive approach” to meet biological risks, including pandemics.

It also follows a highly critical assessment by a parliamentary committee which found that Covid-19 “exposed profound shortcomings” in Britain’s approach to biosecurity.

“Covid-19 shone a light on the importance of biological security and ensuring we have robust plans in place to protect the public from threats here in the UK and overseas,” said Michael Ellis, minister for the cabinet office.

Biosecurity is a key element of the government’s integrated review of security, defense, development and foreign policy, which was launched last year to mark a new beginning in the UK’s relations with the world after it ended its five-decade membership of the EU.

But parliament’s joint committee on national security strategy found in late 2020 that, despite having “well considered plans for a significant disease outbreak”, the UK failed to scale up testing and contact tracing, experienced poor supply of protective equipment, and there was a striking absence of leadership of the UK’s biological security as a whole ”.

One of the integrated defense review’s most notable warnings, after the Novichock nerve agent attack in Salisbury in 2018, was that a terrorist group will probably “launch a successful chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack by 2030.”

Specialist officers in protective suits in Salisbury during March 2018

One of the integrated defense review’s most notable warnings, after the Novichock nerve agent attack in Salisbury in 2018, was that a terrorist group will probably “launch a successful chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack by 2030”. © Matt Cardy / Getty Images

Yet such deliberate attacks are viewed as a less significant risk than naturally occurring disease outbreaks, and fears of biological threats have only increased following the coronavirus pandemic, which demonstrated the disruptive effect of a contagious disease.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates last year suggested that the US and UK would have to spend “tens of billions” on research and development to guard against a future pandemic and urged the World Health Organization to establish a task force for disease surveillance.

Sarah Gilbert, who led the development of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, has also urged politicians to invest in prevention.

“This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods,” she said in a recent lecture. “We cannot allow a situation where we have gone through. . . and then find that the enormous economic losses we have sustained mean that there is still no funding for pandemic preparedness. ”

The “refreshed” biosecurity review will consider a broad spectrum of biological risks, including deliberate biological attack, infectious disease outbreaks, antimicrobial resistance, animal and plant diseases that pose a risk to human health, and the accidental release of viruses such as foot-and -mouth disease.

Under the broad overriding concept of “health resilience”, it will also cover logistical aspects of health, including medical supply chains and border controls.

The updated strategy will be released later this year, after incorporating evidence from health and security experts.



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