Covid-19: Officials 'thought virus wouldn't travel this far'

13 November 2020, 06:08 | Updated: 13 November 2020, 07:10

Dame Sally Davies said she questioned whether the country should rehearse for a coronavirus outbreak in 2015 but was told it would not "reach us properly"
Dame Sally Davies said she questioned whether the country should rehearse for a coronavirus outbreak in 2015 but was told it would not "reach us properly". Picture: PA

England was badly prepared for the coronavirus pandemic as officials thought a virus "never travel this far", the former chief medical officer claimed.

Dame Sally Davies said she questioned whether the country should rehearse for a coronavirus outbreak in 2015 but was told it would not "reach us properly" by Public Health England officials.

She told the Daily Telegraph officials focused on the threat of pandemic influenza and was therefore prepared for the "wrong pandemic".

But Public Health England said this is not true, adding: "Dame Sally Davies participated in exercises which planned specifically for a MERS coronavirus scenario in the UK amongst other health threats."

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Nearly 67,000 deaths involving Covid-19 have now occurred in the UK, the latest figures show, while, as of 9am on Thursday, there had been a further 33,470 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, the highest daily figure recorded since the outbreak began.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to an independent public inquiry into the coronavirus response in July.

Dame Sally, who left the role last October, told the paper the country was "not as well prepared as we should have been".

She added: "I did ask during a conversation in my office in around 2015, should we do Sars? But I was told no, because it wouldn't reach us properly. They said it would die out and would never travel this far.

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"So I did ask, but it was the Public Health England people who said we didn't need to do it, and I'll say that to Parliament.

"That advice meant we never seriously sat down and said: 'Will we have a massive pandemic of something else?'"

A government spokesperson said: "This is an unprecedented pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided at all times by the best scientific advice, to protect the NHS and save lives.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to an independent public inquiry into the coronavirus response in July
Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to an independent public inquiry into the coronavirus response in July. Picture: PA

"There is a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes, all of which would not be possible without the years of preparation undertaken for a pandemic, including flu and other infectious diseases like MERS, SARS and Ebola."

A spokesman for Public Health England added planning for an influenza pandemic was the focus as it was top of the National Risk Assessment.

They added: "In all of our time working with Dame Sally Davies we agreed that the country should prepare for all health protection threats including infections caused by different organisms such as coronaviruses."