“Where were the critics who could have stopped Johnson leading Britain to Covid tragedy?” your article asks (27 May). I was one of a number of people who did try to publicise the risks of a viral pandemic and the solutions. I first heard the full scenario for a viral pandemic on 17 November 2008 in a presentation on research that was conducted in the wake of the Sars-1 outbreak (2002-04).
After years of teaching about the management of pandemics and encouraging emergency planners to tackle the problem, on 14 March 2017 I gave a talk to 12-year-old children at a school in Swiss Cottage, north London. They took the whole problem of pandemics far more seriously than did the government, which was then busy ignoring the results of the 2016 Cygnus pandemic exercise, whose report was produced at that time and kept secret until the Guardian published it years later. Indeed, one of the children asked me how we would cope if the virus mutated before a suitable vaccine could be created. Very percipient.
The UK national risk register has been issued by the government in various editions at irregular intervals since 2008. Every edition has put pandemics at the top of the list of risks that the nation faces. How will the government justify having ignored its own warnings?
David E Alexander
Professor of risk and disaster reduction, University College London
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