A laboratory technician uses a pipette device to process samples to test for the novel coronavirus Covid-19 in the laboratory of the Biogroup Laboratory in West London on January 21, 2021.

JUSTIN TALLIS | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON – The UK has plans to create a new National Health Security Agency to “plan, prevent and respond to future external health threats such as infectious diseases”.

The UK Health Security Agency will lead protection against future health threats and “ensure that the nation can respond quickly and on a larger scale to pandemics and future threats,” the government announced on Wednesday.

The agency is led by Dr. Jenny Harries, an official who has made a familiar face to the UK public as England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer during the coronavirus pandemic. Harries has attended televised briefings with government officials many times during the pandemic.

The UK was reflecting on a tough year of coronavirus lockdown and loss on Tuesday, a year after the initial lockdown on March 23, 2020. Since then, over 4.3 million people across the country have been infected with the virus, with more than 125,000 deaths, one of the hardest hit countries in the world.

One bright spot was the country’s rapid vaccination, which began in December. To date, over 28.3 million adults in the UK have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Last Saturday, a record 844,285 vaccine doses were delivered in one day alone.

Health officials point out that despite the planned easing of further restrictions on public life, there is no room for complacency. Other infectious variants of the virus are spreading around the world, and UK continental neighbors on mainland Europe are now experiencing a third wave of infections.

As everywhere, there is consensus among British officials that the country needs to be better prepared for future pandemics and so-called “external” health threats.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he wanted “everyone at UKHSA at all levels to wake up every day eager to plan the next pandemic”. Covid-19 has shown “that the challenges of protecting the health of the nation change at an unprecedented pace as new types of threats emerge”.

The government said the new body, which will come into force in April and replace the National Institute for Health Protection, will be “the UK’s leading state on health security, providing intellectual, scientific and operational leadership at the national, local and national levels global stage. “

The UKHSA’s primary focus in its initial phase will be on continuing to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the government said. It will also continue to bring together agencies and expertise deployed during the coronavirus crisis, such as the UK’s prestigious genome monitoring capabilities and its contact tracing network.