Thursday 10 June 2021 1:56 pm

Government ran secret coronavirus outbreak exercise five years ago

The UK government ran a secret exercise mimicking the outbreak of a Covid-like virus outbreak in 2016.

Exercise Alice, as the project was called, involved the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and was carried out nearly five years ago.

The exercise envisioned an outbreak of MERS, the so-called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which is a coronavirus, according to newspaper The Guardian.

The information became public after a freedom of information request. Previously, Public Health England had reportedly refused to reveal any details around Exercise Alice, citing national security as the main objection to disclose any information.

Hospital consultant Moosa Qureshi, who applied for the information, called on Parliament to demand Health Secretary Matt Hancock to explain why “he failed to disclose that the government modelled multiple other pandemics, including a coronavirus.”

Ebola and bird flu

Other exercises that were carried out reportedly include three on an Ebola outbreak, four on pandemic influenze, two on an acute viral illness, one radiation incident, three on bird flue and.

Public Health England is now urged to disclose the details on the difference exercises and to share them with virologists and other experts.  

Prof Peter Openshaw, a respiratory physician and mucosal immunologist at Imperial College London, reportedly said that “if there were so many exercises, it’s odd to me that the results were not provided to advisory committees.”

The reports on the exercises could be very valuable, stressed Openshaw, who is also a member of the government’s Nervtag committee, which advises on new and emerging respiratory virus threats.