The Next Pandemic Is Precedented
COVID-19 was not ‘the great leveller’. BAME communities were hit the hardest, and instead of levelling up we have levelled down, with deepening inequalities between the North and South of England.
The ongoing cost-of-living crisis is in part due to supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic. Real term wages are falling and are unlikely to recover any time soon, with economists predicting a drawn-out recession.
Now, an emerging ‘twindemic’ of flu and COVID-19 is bringing our NHS to its knees, with our nurses and junior doctors left demoralised and planning to strike in the coming months.
During the Tory leadership debates, we heard Liz Truss confidently claim that COVID-19 would be a “once-in-a-hundred years” event. Not content with being wrong about everything else, she is wrong about pandemics too. The last few decades have seen HIV, SARS, avian flu, swine flu, MERS, Ebola, COVID-19 and monkeypox emerge, and experts expect epidemics and pandemics to become more frequent due to climate change. Compared to COVID-19, future pandemic viruses could be deadlier and spread more quickly, devastating our public services, hurting the most vulnerable in our communities and causing inequality to deepen further.
COVID-19 was not ‘unpredictable’. Pandemics have been at the top of the National Risk Register since 2008, but Tory ‘sticking plaster’ politics left Britain unprepared for COVID-19. The next Labour government can do better.
As Keir Starmer promises to replace Tory chaos with economic stability, Labour has set out an Industrial Strategy which aims to improve resilience to extreme risks like pandemics. In line with this thinking, Scientists for Labour, alongside Labour for the Long Term, have released a CLP motion and policy report calling on Labour to direct a proportion of the promised increase in research and development (R&D) spending towards innovations which could secure our communities against pandemics.
Targeted investment in pandemic preparedness R&D could allow us to more quickly detect new viruses and develop better treatments and vaccines, reducing pressures on frontline staff in our NHS. Better pandemic preparedness could also limit the need for lockdowns and prevent inflationary supply chain disruptions, preventing inequalities from widening further.
In the USA, like on climate change, the Biden Administration is showing great ambition on pandemic preparedness R&D, aiming to spend £52 billion across 5 years. The next Labour government should similarly match its ambitions on pandemic preparedness to its ambitions on climate change, to protect our public services and deliver a fairer future for Britain’s working people.