A suppressed refrain by Sybil the long suffering wife in Fawlty Towers, an institution
bearing a remarkable resemblance to aspects of UK governments in recent years.
'Forgetting the lessons of history and being forced to relive them' comes to mind in the midst
of the instant Coronavirus pandemic.
Necessarily and naturally we are consumed presently with combating the viral disaster as quickly
and safely as possible. To that end its been a constant catch up to achieve adequate supplies of
PPE, test kits, track and trace apps and most of all the search for an effective vaccine. Before that
the focus was on the shortfall of isolation ICUs,hospital beds, ventilators and mortuary
In the first place all too slow into lockdown. Now all too anxious to unlock. And all the while clocking
up the second highest death toll from covid 19 in the world.
But it need not have been like this. Where have the authorities been? What have they been doing
about foreseeable and known risks ? Pretty well nothing. Obsessed with distractions such as
Brexit at very same moment the virus was making its mark in Far East.
Starting with relatively recent history, from 1918 onwards, there has been a clear and charted
sequence of pandemics as well as epidemics.
The 1918-20 pandemic became known as Spanish flu ; it was followed by another in 1957/8
known as Asian/avian or bird flu ; and another H1N1 in 2009/10 known as swine flu. Add to this
the outbreak of SARS ( severe acute respiratory syndrome ) 2002-2004 ) which involved a
Coronavirus ( CoV1 ).
As a result WHO predicted in 2016 that this virus or a variant would be the likely cause of a future
epi or pandemic becoming endemic. Certain common features were established. It was likely to be
transmitted from a major host resource such as bats. That this tends to occur in environments
where human population density is proximate to large animal congregations.. The means of
transmission is airborne water droplets. The spread is fast unless contained and isolated by a
period of quarantine.
In early 2018, anticipating the inevitable, this premonition was discussed at a conference
convened by WHO in Geneva under the ominous title of Disease X. According to one of the
attendees as reported in the New York Times on February 27th earlier this year. ' Disease X,we
said back then,would likely result from a virus originating in animals and would emerge somewhere
on the planet where economic development drives people and wildlife together.' It would spread
quickly and silently exploiting networks of human travel and trade reaching multiple countries and
thwarting containment. Too right.
A worrying development occurred later in 2018, when the UK authorities detected and notified
WHO about a confirmed case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome ( MERS-CoV ) in relation to
a visitor to the UK from Saudi Arabia. WHO issued the following warning and chillingly accurate
advice 'WHO encourages all member states to continue their surveillance for acute respiratory
infections and to carefully review any unusual patterns.WHO recommends the collection of
exposure information, including recent travel history........infection prevention and control measures
are critical to prevent the possible spread of MERS-CoV in health care facilities.' [ WHO news
circular disease spread 31 August 2018 ].
Come on Boris I think it's telling you to be alert.!!
The UK government knew, at the latest, by the third week of January this year that there was a
serious covid outbreak in the Far East and yet it did no monitoring, no testing and no isolation save
for the initial arrivals from a cruise ship and the business man from Singapore.. Only now three and
a half months later is there talk of all travellers arriving by air being subject to quarantine for
fourteen days. No mention of those arriving by other means overland by rail.
But this is not the worst of it. Unbeknown to the public at large the UK authorities clearly thought
they had better find out how the NHS might cope with an imagined but scientifically predicted
next pandemic. The results in 2016 following a three day exercise code named Cygnus were too
much to bear or reveal. In short it couldn't.
A board paper for NHS England appeared to acknowledge that the exercise had revealed critical
shortcomings concluding " Plans are currently being revised to incorporate the learning from this
exercise and ensure our continued preparedness for future pandemic influenza outbreaks" [ Dan
Sabbagh Guardian 2 Apl 2020 ]
Did they rush around stockpiling the essential protective equipment, constructing the extra
facilities, or assembling potential testing or vaccine research. Not a bit of it. Instead
austerity and cuts were inflicted on the very services now being applauded every Thursday night.
A nightmare which was foretold as a horror story in 1981 by Dean Koontz - ' Eyes of
Darkness' . He called the killer virus ' Wuhan 400 '
How much longer do we have to suffer procrastination,obfuscation,
and downright mismanagement by successive Governments ? The results
are unimaginable pain anguish and death on a scale that was preventable.
It might be useful if we were to occupy this current hiatus for reflection upon the forces at work.
There is a need to reevaluate the way in which our planet, our
environment and the animal kingdom has been plundered
generation after generation. The relationship has been
contaminated by our incessant exploitation. Until this root cause is addressed
by all of us and our governments it won't be long before the next Pandemic
comes rolling down the tracks towards an ill prepared and blinkered
Michael Mansfield QC
15th May 2020