Too much time spent preparing for flu rather than coronavirus pandemic – Cameron

The former prime minister was the first politician to be questioned by the official Covid-19 inquiry.

David Cameron has conceded that his government spent too much time preparing for an influenza pandemic rather than other types of outbreak as he was quizzed by the official coronavirus inquiry.

The Conservative former prime minister accepted on Monday that “many consequences” followed from the focus on pandemic flu rather than coronaviruses.

Mr Cameron, who will face questions over the austerity cuts to public services under his leadership between 2010 and 2016, became the first politician to be questioned by the inquiry.

He said the time spent on focusing on flu during contingency planning was “the thing I keep coming back to” when considering the “horrors of the Covid pandemic”.

“Much more time was spent on pandemic flu and the dangers of pandemic flu rather than on potential pandemics of other more respiratory diseases like Covid turned out to be,” he said, while under oath.

“And you know, I think this is so important because so many consequences follow from that.

“And I’ve been sort of wrestling with … I think the architecture (to deal with large-scale emergencies) was good – the National Security Council, the National Security Adviser, the risk register and also this new security risk assessment, which was perhaps a bit more dynamic.

“But that’s where I keep coming back to is, so much time was spent on a pandemic influenza and that was seen as the greatest danger – and we had very bad years for flu so it is a big danger …

“But why wasn’t more time and more questions asked about what turned out to be the pandemic that we faced?

“It’s very hard to answer why that’s the case. And I’m sure this public inquiry is going to spend a lot of time on that.”

Mr Cameron was being questioned by barrister Kate Blackwell KC rather than the inquiry’s lead counsel Hugo Keith, who has said he knows the former prime minister.

The first phase of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry is examining whether the UK was sufficiently prepared for the pandemic.

The British Medical Association representing doctors has accused Mr Cameron and his ministers of allowing the NHS to get into a “parlous state”.

Ahead of the hearing, council chairman Professor Philip Banfield wrote: “I have seen first-hand the damage wrought by years of austerity and a failure to prioritise the nation’s health.

“The UK was severely on the back foot when Covid took hold, and this proved disastrous – for the doctors I represent and the millions who suffered at the hands of the virus.”

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has said that austerity was a “political choice” that left the UK “hugely exposed to the pandemic”.

On Tuesday, Mr Cameron’s chancellor, George Osborne, will give evidence, as well former Cabinet office minister Sir Oliver Letwin.

Current Chancellor and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt is due on Wednesday, as is Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden.

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