Weekly Covid deaths in England and Wales pass 1,000 for first time since early March

Latest figures come as vaccine taskforce chief warns UK ‘neglecting’ threat of future pandemics

Liam James
Tuesday 23 November 2021 13:34
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Weekly Covid deaths in England and Wales have passed 1,000 for the first time in eight months, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The ONS said 1,020 Covid deaths were registered in the week ending 12 November. They accounted for around one in 12 of all deaths registered that week.

The number is up 3 per cent on the previous week, when 995 deaths were registered.

Deaths in England accounted for the overall rise, up to 943 from 892, while Wales saw a decrease.

The latest figures were released as the former chair of the UK’s vaccine taskforce warned the country was “neglecting” the threat of more pandemics and urged ministers to act now to build defences against a future catastrophe.

Dame Kate Bingham, knighted for her role in establishing Britain's vaccine programme, told The Times the UK was “woefully underprepared” for the Covid-19 pandemic and warned that future pandemics could be more lethal.

She called for ministers to take a more “positive and proactive” approach to dealing with the science industry responsible for the vaccine and urged the government to hire more scientists as civil servants to help make key decisions in the event of another deadly disease outbreak.

The civil service has a “devastating” lack of skills and experience in science, industry, commerce and manufacturing, she said, adding that there is a culture of “group think and risk aversion” that “stifles initiative and encourages foot-dragging”.

She suggested that it was only the intervention of chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, who has a background in pharmaceutical company research and development, that allowed the creation of the vaccine taskforce outside normal Whitehall structures.

The vaccine programme may not have seen the same success if there had been a reliance on the government's existing structure and operation, she said.

In a speech at Oxford University on Tuesday she will say: “The machinery of government is dominated by process, rather than outcome, causing delay and inertia.

”There is an obsessive fear of personal error and criticism, a culture of group think and risk aversion that stifles initiative and encourages foot-dragging.

“Government must be braver. It needs to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset in which people are rewarded for flair and results.”

Dame Kate’s views echo similar comments made by the prime minister’s former top aide, Dominic Cummings, at the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee.

A government spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by scientific and medical experts and we never shied away from taking quick and decisive action to save lives and protect our NHS.

“We prepare for a range of scenarios and while there were extensive arrangements in place, this is an unprecedented pandemic that has challenged health systems around the world.

“We have always said there are lessons to be learnt from the pandemic and have committed to a full public inquiry in spring.”

Additional reporting by PA

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