Strategy for a Pandemic: The UK, COVID-19, and Resilient Strategy for Future Shocks

June 2020 No Comments

Speaker: Freedman, L. (King’s College London)

Date: 23 June 2020

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted speaker session presented by Sir Lawrence Freedman (King’s College London) as a part of its SMA UK MoD Speaker Series. Sir Lawrence presented a series of lessons that can be learned from the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK. He first discussed the role that scientists played in the spread of the virus throughout the UK, emphasizing that the government is not the sole party to attribute responsibility. Sir Lawrence explained that research conducted by scientists has been published during the pandemic with a few weeks’ delay, as scientists often wait to accumulate enough data and make sound conclusions. Furthermore, the data that scientists were waiting to collect often relied on testing, which was limited in the UK at the beginning of the pandemic. So, although the UK government was following scientists’ recommendations, the science that it was receiving in real-time was based on evidence that was several weeks old. Sir Lawrence continued by emphasizing that it is not sufficient to make deep inquiries into what went wrong at the beginning of the pandemic. Decision makers and scientists need to ask how the virus spread across a particular country as well. He stated that one problem that the UK has encountered is that COVID-19 has spread fairly uniformly across the country. Therefore, one must look at original outbreaks as opposed to the country as a whole to determine how to prevent the virus from spreading in the future. Sir Lawrence also explained that two major sources of new transmissions were hospitals and care facilities. In hospitals, medical professionals did not have enough PPE, and patients that were admitted without COVID-19 often caught the virus while at hospitals. Moreover, elderly people that visited hospitals also brought the virus back to their care facilities in some instances. Next, Sir Lawrence discussed what government planners can do in the future to prevent the spread of the virus. He emphasized the need for more testing, increased contact tracing, and clear communication of risk in a sensible way. He stated that, based on the UK’s experience, the public is forgiving of early mistakes made by the government, as long as leadership demonstrates that it has a grip on what will happen moving forward. Sir Lawrence then added a few points regarding government leadership during a pandemic: 1) If a government is going to have rules, everyone needs to follow them; 2) It is harder to explain what you can and cannot do when coming out of lockdown than it is when going into lockdown; and 3) It is very difficult to encourage scared people to re-enter society. All of these things are made more difficult if a population has lost trust in its leadership, according to Sir Lawrence. Therefore, trust is a critical feature in dealing with this disease. To conclude, Sir Lawrence explained how the UK can apply its lessons learned to the near future. He stated that, as scientists develop a vaccine, countries should monitor their populations for new outbreaks and deal with them in a localized way as quickly as possible. This will help countries look after both the economy and public health simultaneously. Finally, planners must continue their exploration of how different parts of society interact (as they did with hospital patients and care facility residents) and how these interactions factor into the spread of a virus.

Speaker Session Recording

Also forthcoming!

Download Prof. Freedman’s Briefing Materials

Download Speaker Series Description

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