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Government knew years ago that the NHS could not cope with virus

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Issue 2698
The government is opening a new hospital at the Excel centre in east London - after years of driving down the NHS
The government is opening a new hospital at the Excel centre in east London – after years of driving down the NHS (Pic: Number 10/Flickr)

The NHS failed a test of its ability to withstand a major pandemic more than three years ago but the results were not made public.

The three-day practice run across the government found Britain would be quickly overwhelmed by an outbreak.

It highlighted a shortage of personal protective equipment, morgue capacity and critical care beds.

The test—codenamed Exercise Cygnus—was carried out in October 2016. But its findings were deemed too sensitive to be made public.

The results of the study were said to have prompted ministers to draft emergency legislation that formed the basis of the wideranging Coronavirus Bill that was rushed through the Commons last week.

One former senior government source told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, “There has been a reluctance to put Cygnus out in the public domain because frankly it would terrify people.

“It’s right to say that the NHS was stretched beyond breaking point [by Cygnus].

“People might say we have blood on our hands but the fact is that it’s always easier to manage the last outbreak than the one coming down the track.” More than 1,000 organisations took part in the 2016 exercise.

NHS trusts, the military and doctors’ associations were asked to show how they would cope with a major influenza outbreak.

The report used modelling by the same Imperial College London team whose work is now being used to track the Covid-19 outbreak.

It is said to have found significant gaps in the NHS’s “surge capacity”, while mortuaries were rapidly overwhelmed because of a lack of doctors able to certify causes of death.

Questions were also raised about the supply of life-saving protective equipment for doctors and nurses, sources told the paper.

Speaking about the operation in a 2016 speech—in one of few public references to the exercise—then-chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies said, “We’ve just had in the UK a three-day exercise on flu on a pandemic that killed a lot of people.

“It became clear that we could not cope with the excess bodies, for instance. It becomes very worrying about the deaths, and what that will do to society as you start to get all those deaths, [including] the economic impact.”

Evictions are on the rise despite Tories’ pledge

An evictions firm says it is taking on extra staff to kick out “a record number of tenants”.

The coronavirus legislation leaves up to 20,000 renters at risk of losing their homes because it is not backdated.

Instead, a bar on court proceedings only kicked in last week. And landlords can still inform tenants of an intention to evict them after late June. This forces many to prepare to move out.

One email from a property management company read, “We own a business which has a department where we evict private and commercial tenants when court orders have been gained. We are evicting a record number of both private and commercial tenants.

“We have appointed new agents to cope with the rapid increase in evictions.

“Estate agents, property management agents and landlords are very keen to evict tenants as they need the rent paid in full during these difficult times.”

‘Kink community’ on Tory fetish for cuts

A medical fetish firm says it has donated its entire stock of disposable scrubs to an NHS hospital that was “desperate” for supplies.

In a thread posted on Twitter, MedFetUK wrote, “We have been contacted this week by representatives of NHS procurement all over the country, trying to source basic protective equipment and clothing.

“When we, a tiny company set up to serve a small section of the kink community, find ourselves being sought out as a last-resort supplier to our National Health Service in a time of crisis, something is seriously wrong. In fact, it’s scandalous.

“This is the result of a decade of chronic underfunding and cuts which has left the NHS barely able to cope under normal circumstances, much less when faced with the onslaught of a global pandemic.”

Pig of the week #1: ‘There will be anarchy’

The Met Police threatened to fine a bakery boss £80 for criminal damage after she put temporary lines outside her shop to keep her customers safe from coronavirus.

The incident took place outside the Grodzinski bakery in Edgware, north west London. The officer told the woman that she had graffitied the pavement.

The woman said, “This is not graffiti, it’s chalk, it washes off. So you would rather all my customers don’t stand two metres apart?”

The officer replied, “It’s still a criminal offence. The law is the law and it doesn’t change because of what is happening.

“There would be anarchy in the world.”


Pig of the week #2: Boys in blue pollute pool

Police have dyed the normally bright blue water of a beauty spot in Buxton black, in a bid to deter people from gathering there.

The disused quarry at Harpur Hill was considered too picturesque by plods.

So to prevent us not all coming together they added black ink saying, “We have attended the location this morning and used water dye to make the water look less appealing.”

Ramsay is latest celebrity chef to lay off staff

Celebrity chef wanker of the week award goes to Gordon Ramsay.

Ramsay laid off more than 500 of his staff. Axed employees took to social media to blast Gordon Ramsay Restaurants for ending their contracts out of the blue.

Staff have been told by email they will get paid up until 17 April, but say there is no guarantee their job will still be available. Ramsay is “worth” £185 million.

Billionaire nets more billions out of crisis

US billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman has made $2.6 billion out of the coronavirus crisis.

Ackman had bet that the outbreak would cause a market crash.

Did his claims that “hell is coming” on national TV help to stoke the market panic?

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