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

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Labour is calling for regular military-style “germ games” to ensure ministers are properly prepared for any future pandemics.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth says the country was “vulnerable and exposed” when coronavirus hit last year because the Government had ignored warnings and weakened its defences.

In a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research on Tuesday, he will say it would be “unforgivable” to be so unprepared in the face of another disease outbreak.

“Being on the back foot has cost lives. Labour would get on the front foot against future threats. Future resilience against pandemics isn’t a choice. It’s a necessity,” he will say.

“Our vaccination programme is the light at the end of the tunnel, but with experts warning we are in an ‘era of pandemics’, this is no time for complacency.

“Viruses more deadly or contagious than Covid-19, or resistant to antibodies, could emerge. Pandemic threats are real and must be reduced.

“Boris Johnson’s Government ignored the warnings and weakened our defences. They left our country vulnerable and exposed when this pandemic hit.

“Given we know the scale of the risks, it would be unforgivable to be on the back foot again.”

Mr Ashworth will say that ministers should be obliged to undergo obligatory training with regular “germ games” in the same way that the military hold war gaming exercises.

He will say the Health Secretary should be required to report annually 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.

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

He will say the Government should work with research institutions and the life sciences industry to develop vaccines and therapeutics for the future.

And he will call on ministers to show international leadership on global surveillance to help identify new emerging infectious diseases.

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