The government has earmarked £200m to fight zoonotic diseases – viruses that pass from animals to humans – after Covid-19 launched the issue onto the global stage.
The funding will be pumped into the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) laboratories, which will focus on tackling high-risk animal diseases such as avian flue and bovine tuberculosis.
APHA is the UK’s watchdog for animal and plant health safeguarding and was crucial to controlling the outbreaks of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001, which hit British farming.
The coronavirus pandemic has reiterated the importance of boosting resilience to prevent similar public health crises happening in the future.
Beyond public health, zoonotic disease pose a real threat to wildlife and farming, and risks curbing a £12bn industry in animal and animal by-product exporting.
“The importance of APHA’s work for society and for the UK economy is shown again and again; witness their work on the present avian influenza outbreak, and the global Covid pandemic – a zoonotic disease,” DEFRA chief scientific advisor Gideon Henderson said.
“This substantial investment in APHA’s capability recognises the essential role of this government laboratory, and will enable its excellent scientists to continue at the forefront of research and policy to protect the country, boosting our resilience and strengthening our understanding of health risks to, and from, animals and plants.”
The investment forms part of the UK revamping its approach to biosecurity after Covid-19 revealed the country’s weaknesses in tackling the issue.
The government is looking to update its biological security strategy, last updated in 2018, with what it has learned from the most recent pandemic, the Financial Times reported.
The likes of Bill Gates and Sarah Gilbert, who led the development of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, have urged government’s to invest in preventative measures – instead of combative.
Speaking in a recent lecture, Gilbert said: “This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods,” she said in a recent lecture.
“We cannot allow a situation where we have gone through… and then find that the enormous economic losses we have sustained mean that there is still no funding for pandemic preparedness.”