Another pandemic is ‘absolutely inevitable’, says Patrick Vallance | Patrick Vallance

The former chief scientific adviser to the government Sir Patrick Vallance has said another pandemic is “absolutely inevitable” and urged the incoming British government to focus on preparing for it, warning “we are not ready yet”.

Speaking at a panel event at the Hay festival in Powys, Vallance said it is “great we are having an election” as there are “clearly issues that need to be sorted out”. One of the things the next government must do is implement “better surveillance to be able to pick these things up”, he said.

He also reiterated what he said to G7 leaders in 2021, that “we need to be much faster, much more aligned – and there are ways to do this – at getting rapid diagnostic tests, rapid vaccines, rapid treatments, so that you don’t have to go into the extreme measures that took place” during the Covid-19 pandemic. The measures he recommends are possible to implement, Vallance believes, but “require some coordination”.

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He said that by 2023 the G7 had “sort of forgotten” about the points he had made in 2021. “You can’t forget about it,” he urged, recommending that pandemic preparations are treated similarly to the armed forces.

“We know we have to have an army, not because there’s going to be a war this year, but we know it’s an important part of what we need as a nation,” he said. “We need to treat this preparedness in the same way and not to view it as an easy thing to keep cutting back when there’s no sign of a pandemic – because there won’t be a sign of a pandemic.”

He mentioned the World Health Organization’s push for the pandemic accord, a proposed agreement for countries to work together to prepare for pandemics, as one of the “steps in the right direction” that are being taken. “But I don’t think there’s enough focus,” he said. If this issue gets pushed off G7 and G20 agendas, “we’ll be in exactly the same position, and I hope that’s an important outcome of the inquiry”.

That said, he said there are issues with the speed and efficiency of how inquiries are conducted, and said we have “got to work out a better way” of doing them.

Though Vallance thinks it is about time there was an election, he did praise the outgoing government’s anti-smoking bill, and said he is disappointed it won’t go through before the election. “I think that needs to be picked up rapidly afterwards.”

Asked whether protesters should have been allowed to play Things Can Only Get Better during Rishi Sunak’s speech outside 10 Downing Street on Wednesday, he said he thinks such protests are “part of our democracy” and that Sunak and his team’s decision not to find a location for the speech where he could have been heard “is a sign of incompetence”.

“The chaos of that event was emblematic,” he said.

However, he does believe certain acts of protest cross a line. Vallance is the chair of the Natural History Museum and said he thinks an incident when paint was thrown over an exhibition was “wrong”, and had the Just Stop Oil protesters managed to damage Magna Carta earlier this month, that would have been wrong too.

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