UK did not have capability to ‘scale up quickly’ to deal with pandemic – Whitty

Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance are giving evidence to the Covid inquiry on Thursday.

The UK did “not have ability to scale up” quickly to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic in areas such as testing, England’s chief medical officer has said.

Sir Chris Whitty told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry that the “hazards and threats” from a pandemic are “going to be completely different every time” and what is needed are “multiple capabilities that can be flexed to almost any emergency…” rather than the existing focus on having a plan for one particular scenario.

Sir Chris addressed the families bereaved by the pandemic at the start of his evidence on Thursday, saying he had first-hand experience of being on the front line when he was on NHS wards for 12 weeks.

Covid-19 pandemic inquiry
Sir Chris Whitty addressed bereaved families at the inquiry (Lucy North/PA)

He said: “I can say to the families who are here I saw the extraordinary impact and devastation for individuals and the families.”

Later, under questioning, Sir Chris admitted “we did not give sufficient thought to what we could do to stop, in its tracks, a pandemic on the scale of Covid, or indeed any other pathogen that could realistically go there”.

He also described going into a national lockdown as a “very big, new idea”, adding that it was a “very radical thing to do”.

He suggested it would be “very difficult” for a group of independent scientists to start planning for a full lockdown in advance, without being told to do so by a senior politician.

His evidence came as it was announced that former health secretary Matt Hancock, ex-Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, Dame Jenny Harries, will be among next week’s witnesses at the Covid inquiry.

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