According to a Freedom of Information (FOI) Request carried out by a doctor, the UK government secretly modelled a Coronavirus pandemic five years ago, which was kept hidden from parliament.
Moosa Qureshi, an NHS consultant hematologist, made the FOI request as he has been fighting a legal battle for transparency since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020.
He discovered that the government had modeled an influenza pandemic in Exercise Cygnus in 2016, however, a list of other exercises which were carried out have only recently been revealed.
Public Health England released a list that shows that between 2015 and 2019, 11 pandemic and epidemic preparedness exercises were carried out. Exercise Alice is just one included on this list, which took place in 2016 and tested the “country’s readiness to cope with Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, caused by a coronavirus.”
Other outbreaks that were modelled included avian flu, Ebola, and Lassa fever.
According to Qureshi, Public Health England initially refused his FOI request for additional information on other outbreak exercises on the grounds of protecting national security. After requesting his case to be reviewed, the information was then released.
However, Public Health England is adamant that releasing reports on any of the other exercises, apart from Exercise Cygnus, would be a threat to national security.
Once the list was made public, Matt Hancock, the UK health and social care secretary, said: “Famously, all the preparations and the plans that were in place were for a flu pandemic. Novel coronavirus, as we’ll come to when we talk about asymptomatic transmission, is different from even the previous coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS.”
He told MPs: “It’s true that the countries that experienced SARS and MERS were better prepared than we were, partly because of that experience. But it is also true that covid-19 is very different from SARS and MERS, and the number one difference is that it has asymptomatic transmission.”
In response to Matt Hancock’s speech to parliament, Qureshi said: “The health secretary told parliament that Exercise Cygnus looked at UK preparedness for a flu pandemic, not other pandemics, but the truth is that he’s covering up multiple secret reports on preparedness for other pandemics, including a coronavirus pandemic.
“Politicians need to stop playing ‘Yes, Minister’ and understand that pandemic preparedness is improved by transparency and public scrutiny.”
The main concern is that the exercises were kept a secret from parliament and were not presented to scientific advisory committees.
A government spokesperson said: “We have always been clear that we undertake exercises regularly, both at a national and local level, as they are an essential part of assessing both our pandemic preparedness and planning for a wide range of scenarios.
“The lessons learnt from these exercises have contributed to our ability to rapidly respond to this unprecedented global crisis and continue to be considered by the government and a range of stakeholders, including expert advisory groups and local emergency planners, in reviewing pandemic response plans.”
Of course, it is entirely coincidental that the government would be performing pandemic response exercises in secret just years before the country is hit by an actual Coronavirus outbreak…