Ashworth calls for Whitehall ‘germ games’ to prepare for new pandemics

Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor
·2 min read

Ministers should be required to take part in annual military-style “germ games” to ensure they are properly prepared for any future pandemics, Labour has said.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said despite years of warnings, the Government had been “unprepared, complacent and inept” when coronavirus struck last year.

In a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research, Mr Ashworth said that with future disease outbreaks “likely”, planning for future pandemics was a “necessity”.

He said ministers should have to undergo obligatory training with regular “germ games” in the same way that the military hold war gaming exercises.

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The Labour MP said the Health Secretary should be required to report regularly to Parliament on the country’s pandemic preparedness, with its plans subject to independent review by a new body along the lines of the Office for Budget Responsibility.

“The truth is Covid-19 has revealed our Government as unprepared, complacent and inept, with devastating consequence,” he said.

“Ministers should ‘germ game’ on an annual basis to prepare themselves and the country for the next pandemic or infectious outbreak.

“Never again should we have ministers ignoring the science and learning on the job.

“The emergence of new diseases may seem like random bad luck and the death tolls from consequent pandemics inevitable.

“But they are not just bad luck and devastating spread is not inevitable. We were not ready for this pandemic.”

Mr Ashworth called for public health teams to be properly resourced to deliver local community contact tracing and lead on local containment plans.

He said the Government needed to work with research institutions and the life sciences industry to develop vaccines and therapeutics for the future.

And Mr Ashworth called on ministers to show international leadership on global surveillance to help identify new emerging infectious diseases.

He said the dangers of environmental exploitation in driving zoonotic transmission of disease from animals to humans meant that tackling climate change and biodiversity loss was more urgent than ever.

“Future outbreaks of new infectious diseases are likely. Viruses even more deadly or contagious than Covid-19 could emerge,” Mr Ashworth said.

“Future resilience against pandemics and health security isn’t a choice. It’s a necessity.”