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Exercise Cygnus: The Pandemic dry-run that ended in cover-up

In October 2016, Some 4 years before the current crisis, the Government; NHS, and Local Authorities across Britain staged an exercise that simulated a Pandemic to test their preparedness. The modelling for the outbreak was done by the same team now tracking the Covid-19 virus and was designed to simulate how a virus exactly like that could move through the population, how many could become infected, how many may die and, crucially, how the NHS and local authorities would cope with such an epidemic. It used the H2N2 influenza virus as it’s basis, a virus very close to Covid-19 which kills by causing acute respiratory illness.

The drill, code-named Exercise Cygnus, showed that there were gaping holes in Britain’s Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response Plan. {EPRR). The exercise showed that authorities were entirely unprepared for any pandemic, that the NHS would be quickly overwhelmed, and that tens of thousands of people would die.

A report detailing the findings of Exercise Cygnus has never seen the light of day. A former senior government source with direct involvement in the exercise said they were deemed “too terrifying” to be revealed to the public. Others involved cited “national security” concerns for the need to bury the report. “There has been a reluctance to put Cygnus out in the public domain because frankly it would terrify people,” said the government source. Ministers decided that the report should be classified which it remains to this day.

A senior academic directly involved in Cygnus and the current pandemic said: “These exercises are supposed to prepare government for something like this - but it appears they were aware of the problem but didn’t do much about it."

The report highlighted significant failings in the NHS’s ‘Surge Capacity’ and detailed severe shortages in ICU Beds, ventilators and PPE. More than that It showed how dysfunctional and not fit-for-purpose Public Health England truly are. The Quango set up to deal with exactly this type of health emergency, are wholly incapable of dealing with it. The head of PHE at the time, Dame Sally Davies, had transformed the organisation from a government department tasked with coordinating a response to a national health emergency, into one wholly concerned with Nannying the British public. During her tenure Dame Davies implemented a sugar tax, dictated how roads should be designed, tried to implement a cap on calories for all restaurant meals; a ban on food and drink consumed on public transport; smoking in public places; and also tried to push for plain packaging on all pre-packed food items. She became unhinged, constantly wagging her finger at the general public, with some commentators suggesting that she had become ‘chief nanny’ for the Nanny State.

Now, an increasing number people, including doctors and nurses on the front line, are saying that Public Health England are ‘not fit for purpose’ and some are calling for the entire board to be sacked after this crisis has ended. This includes Davies’ successor, Chris Witty, whose advice to the government is fundamentally flawed, and his department’s lack of preparedness has undoubtedly cost many lives.

The claim that these bureaucrats had funding cut during austerity is one that you will hear them make repeatedly after the crisis is over, however, an annual budget of £4.51 BILLION proves this argument spurious.

The first time we have really needed Public Health England, they have totally failed us. Even their own simulation showed that they were wholly unprepared for a pandemic, yet they appear to have learned nothing from it, preferring to bury the document rather than acting upon it so it has been left to front line staff, industry, and even the public themselves, to fight this pandemic.

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