Go back

UK government announces pandemic surveillance network


Global Pandemic Radar will aim to spot emerging diseases before they cause future pandemics

The UK government has unveiled plans for an international surveillance network aimed at identifying and tracking new Covid variants and other emerging diseases to “stop them in their tracks”.

Co-led by the UK and the World Health Organisation in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust and other partners, the Global Pandemic Radar will aim to save lives and protect health systems by spotting diseases before they cause future pandemics, the government said on 21 May.

Expected to be up and running before the end of 2021, it will also seek to enable the rapid development of vaccines, treatments and tests.

“Tackling Covid-19 globally and ensuring we are better prepared for future health threats is an absolute priority,” said UK prime minister Boris Johnson. “We need to build a system of disease surveillance fit for the 21st century, with real-time data sharing and rapid genomic sequencing and response.

“A Global Pandemic Radar will ensure that we are vigilant to new variants and emerging pathogens, and can rapidly develop the vaccines and treatments needed to stop them in their tracks.”

Pandemic resilience

The announcement follows the publication of a report by the Royal Academy of Engineering that sets out steps the government should take to make the UK more resilient to new pandemics and other emergencies.

The report, Critical capabilities: Strengthening UK resilience, published on 20 May, said the government should “embed an engineer’s systems approach in emergency planning and preparedness” with the help of both public and private organisations.

“Whatever practices and procedures are in place to help with the UK’s preparedness for future emergencies, they risk missing the mark without systems thinking and consideration of critical capabilities,” said Paul Taylor, chair of the academy’s critical capabilities working group.

“While upfront investment is required to strengthen existing capabilities and remedy gaps, long-term benefits will be delivered through an improved emergency response and increased national resilience.”

The academy’s report also suggested an audit of the National Risk Register. “An aim of the audit should include developing a reporting framework to engage the private sector and build a practical mechanism to keep the audit as live as possible,” it suggested.

The report says the Government Office for Science should work with the academy to develop the “a practical tool for emergency planning, preparedness and resilience that builds on existing capabilities programmes”.

“This should include embedding the practices for preparedness alongside current foresight and horizon scanning methods and exercises to identify and ensure that the right capabilities are in place to respond effectively and with agility to future scenarios and risks,” it said.