Disbanding Public Health England is the last thing the government should be doing right now

Matt Hancock should be working round the clock to deal with an impending surge in infections as the winter months close in, and to prepare for the next pandemic, writes Vince Cable

Tuesday 25 August 2020 16:11
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There is an implicit acceptance in the UK and elsewhere that future waves cannot be dealt with by prolonged national lockdowns
There is an implicit acceptance in the UK and elsewhere that future waves cannot be dealt with by prolonged national lockdowns

For most of us, the Covid pandemic has made 2020 one of the most memorable years of our lifetime. It has become almost a cliche to talk of pre-Covid and post-Covid worlds, with a major discontinuity in the way we work and do politics, economics and much else.

But scientists will remind us that Covid is merely the latest in a series of pandemics which vary in their biological origins, ease of transmission and capacity to kill and disable. It is certain that there will be many more to come and some will be more lethal than Covid.

That is the context in which the government has abolished Public Health England (PHE) and replaced it by a quango exclusively devoted to pandemic prevention and management. Just as the 2008-9 banking crisis was followed by a rethink of the regulatory architecture and financial regulation it is right to think about the equivalents in public health. But not right now.

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