“Although pandemic war games had been played in the past, and reports on previous pandemics written, in most cases there appears to have been little action taken to implement lessons learned, or the creation of effective and cost-efficient responses.”
[Milne, Frank; Longworth, David J. (2020) : Preparing for future pandemics: Stress tests and wargames, Queen’s Economics Department Working Paper, No. 1437, Queen’s University, Department of Economics, Kingston (Ontario)]
Well, we know this. In and around 2016 the UK government war-gamed pandemics based on experience of the SARs and the N1H1 flu pandemics, but also Tikka and eBola. Lessons from those events were not learned – for example, the need to either massively stockpile Personal Protective Equipment or to guarantee resilient supply lines for PPE. This was ignored in the UK.
Who ignored it?
Jeremy Hunt was Health Secretary throughout the pre-pandemic period and during the war-gaming. It was he, and mostly he, who left us so dreadfully unprepared. He knew.
Where is he now?
You might have seen him co-chairing the Parliamentary committee that quizzed (gave a platform to) Dominic Cummings – that event in which Cummings dissed ‘Boris’ Johnson and eviscerated Matt Hancock. Hunt is, in fact, Chair of the Health Select Committee which is set up to hold the Secretary of State for Health accountable. Poacher – if ever there was – turned game-keeper. Having left us so unprepared for the Covid pandemic that government ministers repeatedly complain that every decision they took was a leap in the dark, Hunt now puffs out his feathers in faux indignation at the mistakes that were made – even having the face to demand an apology from Cummings.
Now, the definition of a ‘crime against humanity’ is as follows:
Hunt must purposefully have refused to implement the findings of the pandemic war-games. His actions in relation to public health planning (mostly, cutting local public health budgets) were systematic. They were directed specifically at the civilian population in times of peace.
His insouciance is breathtaking. That he so frequently makes media appearances with little or no challenge is a nauseating marker of the weakness of our democratic, accountable political culture.