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The worldwide spread of a disease is at the top of the UK’s risk register

A recent survey by LCCI/ComRes of businesses revealed that Londoners feel a pandemic would impact them the most. It is also at the top of the UK’s National Risk Register.

Each year there is a 1:13 chance of a significant public health pandemic.

There were at least six significant pandemics occurring in the world in 2018, and history tells us that a full-blown repeat could be catastrophic, even though we may have more tools in our toolkit than in the past.

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20 is thought to have killed upwards of 50million people.

The speed of transmission and mortality rates mean that any part of the world could be badly affected very quickly and in several waves unconnected with any seasonal flu period.

The economic consequences have been modelled to be in the region of $7-23 trillion with at least nine months of global disruption and stock market falls of 17-36 points.

The UK has stockpiles of antivirals like Tamiflu but these only reduce the worst of the symptoms.

Vaccines need at least four months to get into production. As a high proportion of deaths are from secondary bacterial pneumonia, antibiotics can have an effect outside growing microbial resistance.

Resilience to a pandemic can take several forms:

  • Better modelling to predict the course of the disease
  • Better surveillance to identify viruses and their spread
  • Better stockpiling of antivirals and antibiotics
  • Optimisation of vaccine production
  • Prioritisation of the health service to identify which parts are critical to fighting the disease: currently, the NHS has 86% bed occupancy so there is limited surplus capacity
  • Better communications to the public on simple countermeasures to take
  • Better practices to minimise societal impact.

As half the population may be affected by pandemic flu, with staff absence on 17-25% during the peak periods, business can expect severe disruption from a global pandemic. Defence in depth is a good principle to adopt.

These points emerged from a briefing entitled ‘ Is the UK well prepared for a repeat of the 1918 influenza pandemic?’ organised by the Foundation for Science and Technology on 6 December.  

To listen to the key-note speakers, click here.


Useful references:

  *   UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011

  *   Sao Paulo Virus Pandemic Scenario

  *   Pandemic flu planning information for England and the devolved administrations, including guidance for organisations and businesses

  *  CDC Summary of the 2017-18 Influenza Season


For further reading, please visit our Knowledge Hub.


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