People visit Primrose Hill, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, February 27, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Britain will launch a new health security agency next week to better prepare for and tackle pandemics by bringing together its testing, analytical and scientific capabilities, health secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday (March 24).

The new agency, called the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), will be headed up by Jenny Harries, England’s deputy chief medical officer, who has been at the forefront of the government’s efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

Britain has one of the highest death tolls from the novel coronavirus but is gradually easing the latest lockdown under a four-step plan underpinned by the success of its vaccination programme.

“On the first of April, so next week, we will formally establish the new UK Health Security Agency. UKHSA, as it will be known, will be this country’s permanent standing capacity to plan, prevent and respond to external threats to health,” Hancock said in a speech to the Local Government Association.

“I want everybody at UKHSA at all levels to wake up every day with a zeal to plan for the next pandemic. That sort of focus is vital, it is vital when the crisis is live like now but in a way that’s the easy bit, the hard bit is keeping that focus in the good times too when there’s no pandemic on the horizon.”

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