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Committee scrutinises UK response to COVID-19 outbreak

20 March 2020

The Science and Technology Select Committee launches an inquiry into the UK's science, research and technology capability and influence in global disease outbreaks



The Committee has already taken evidence from scientists in one-off sessions, and now in the context of the rapidly developing COVID-19 outbreak, the Committee will identify and document lessons learned to inform future actions in areas such as co-ordination, planning, and surveillance and case investigation.

The Committee will endeavour to capture evidence throughout the outbreak, but will take the majority of its evidence after the peak of the pandemic so as not to take valuable time and resources from urgent ongoing work.

Areas to be scrutinised include:

  • he contribution of research and development in understanding, modelling and predicting the nature and spread of the virus;
  • the capacity and capability of the UK research base in providing a response to the outbreak;
  • the flexibility and agility of institutions and processes to respond on areas such as the testing of diagnostics and vaccines during a crisis;
  • the capacity to manufacture and distribute testing, diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines;
  • the capturing of data of the quantity and quality needed to inform the science community during the crisis;
  • the mechanisms for communication of scientific evidence internationally, within national governments and with the public, and;
  • the UK's readiness for future outbreaks.

On Tuesday 10 March, the Committee held a private briefing with key experts, in order to gain an understanding of the virus, how it has spread, and views of how the virus would be likely to spread further.

It also heard evidence focussing on how UK scientists and social scientists have informed actions on the domestic and global scale, as well as potential barriers for the expert community as the outbreak continues.

The Committee also received a briefing on efforts to diagnose the disease rapidly, and measures such as vaccines and potential therapies taken to tackle infection. Present at the briefing were:

  • Dr Gail Carson, Director of Network Development, International Severe Acute Respiratory and emerging Infection Consortium (ISARIC)
  • Professor Neil Ferguson, Director, MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Imperial College London
  • Professor Melissa Leach, Director, Institute of Development Studies.
  • Professor Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology, University of Oxford
  • Dr Jesus Rodriguez Manzano, Lecturer in Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection, Imperial College London
  • Professor Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Global Health, University of Oxford

In addition, Professor Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive, UK Research and Innovation, and former Government Chief Scientific Adviser, gave evidence in this week's oral evidence session on the Budget.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, said:

“The Government has said repeatedly that its actions during this crisis are driven by scientific and medical evidence. It is important that Parliament is able to be informed about adherence to that commitment throughout the period of the pandemic.

“It is also important to capture evidence during the course of the pandemic, to be able to assess the response of Government, public bodies and funders, the research community and others, to be able to learn lessons for the handling of future pandemics.”

Further information

Image: Pixabay/coronavirus