Former PM Cameron says Britain was prepared for flu-like pandemic rather than COVID

LONDON (Reuters) – Former prime minister David Cameron told an inquiry on Monday that Britain was prepared for a flu-type pandemic but not enough work was done in advance to confront an asymptomatic disease similar to COVID-19.

Britain is holding an inquiry into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic after Britain recorded one of the world’s highest death tolls. More than 175,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus had been reported by July last year.

Last week the counsel to the inquiry Hugo Keith said that Britain was taken by surprise by many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic and had not considered policies such as lockdown and shielding in advance.

It could prove a headache for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was finance minister during the pandemic and faces an election expected next year.

However the inquiry is beginning with preparations for the pandemic and so Cameron is the first politician to give evidence to the inquiry although his premiership ended seven years ago.

“Much more time was spent on pandemic flu and the dangers of pandemic flu rather than on potential pandemics of other, more respiratory diseases like COVID turned out to be,” Cameron, who was prime minister from 2010-2016, told the inquiry.

“This is so important because so many consequences followed from that.”

Cameron said that while the government did consider other diseases like MERS and SARS, he questioned whether there had been adequate follow-up on that work and the possibility of asymptomatic transmission of respiratory diseases.

“When you think: what would be different if more time had been spent on a high-infectious asymptomatic pandemic, different recommendations would’ve been made about what was necessary to prepare for.”

Cameron’s finance minister George Osborne will testify on Tuesday while Jeremy Hunt, the current finance minister and health minister under Cameron, will give evidence on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Angus MacSwan)