Thursday, June 1, 2023

Arcturus alert: Experts predict another pandemic, call for urgent action

Person in yellow protective suit. — Pexels

Virologists have warned that the new COVID-19 variant known as Arcturus, which has been found in 22 countries including the UK and the US, may become more aggressive and could become the dominant strain in the UK. 

Scientists believe that another epidemic on the scale of COVID-19 is inevitable, and Sir John Bell, a leading immunologist, has warned that the nation needs to adopt an “always on” approach that includes building a more resilient healthcare system, carrying out better surveillance, and identifying future threats.

Experts have warned that the UK is not ready for the next global pandemic because the country is losing ground in terms of public services and defunding key research. 

Scientists have said that the UK is no better prepared for a pandemic than it was in 2020, and disinvestment in infection-monitoring services, dismantling of key infrastructure and the state of the NHS means that the country is vulnerable. 

Experts have pointed to the mothballing of COVID-testing labs and plan to sell off the UK’s future vaccine manufacturing and research laboratory before it had even opened. 

They are concerned that the NHS is in a worse position to tackle a pandemic now than it was three years ago, with record waits in A&E, ambulance delays and escalating waiting lists. 

Despite everything that has been learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, experts warn that the UK is not prepared for the next pandemic, which could be even more devastating than the last. 

Professor Teresa Lambe, one of the principal investigators leading the Oxford-AstraZeneca programme, said the UK had failed to take on board many “hard-learned lessons” from COVID, and the public will be “sitting ducks” in a new pandemic if there are no further efforts by the government to invest in preparation. 

Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government who led the 2006 research that closely predicted the COVID pandemic, said the world is likely to see another virus outbreak on the same scale in the next 15 years. He warned that the government had failed to invest in the NHS and he was in “no doubt” that it was in “a worse position than it was three years ago”. 

The former government adviser added that, by failing to fund the health service or bolster Britain’s ability to respond to another pandemic, the government is “discounting the future”.

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