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‘Biothreats Radar’ announced to shore up UK defences against biological attacks

Image credit: University of Oxford

The cabinet office has said a new 'Biothreats Radar' will be used to help protect the British public from biological threats such as infectious diseases, biological attacks and antibiotic resistance.

The Biothreats Radar will bring together data from across government, existing independent advisory committees and wider expert groups who analyse biological risks and trends.

The centralisation of the data should help decision-makers gain a comprehensive understanding of known and developing biological threats, the cabinet office said. The announcement is part of the government’s new biological security strategy and is backed with £1.5bn of investment each year.

Deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden said: “Covid was the biggest peacetime challenge in a century and we must be diligent in preparing for future threats on this scale.

“This plan and our £1.5bn investment per year puts us in a strong position to defeat the biological threats of tomorrow, from diseases to bioweapons and antimicrobial resistance.

“It’s a strong and ambitious approach, one that harnesses the sheer ingenuity of the UK’s researchers and scientists and deploys our world-class crisis management capabilities to protect the people of the UK.”

The new strategy sets out clear actions on biosecurity and reflects on lessons learned during the Covid-19 pandemic. It also outlines how the government will tackle a wide range of threats such as bioterrorism and animal and plant diseases by 2030.

As part of the plans, a 'National Biosurveillance Network' is also being launched to detect and monitor emerging threats, alongside UK-based microbial forensics tools and capabilities.

As set out in the recent Atlantic Declaration, the UK is also strengthening its bilateral collaboration with the US on biological health and security, including through closer cooperation to tackle drug-resistant infections.

Professor Dame Angela McLean, the government's chief scientific adviser, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic showed just how critical it is to have a coherent plan to both protect the UK from the increasingly complex range of biological risks and build on the UK’s strengths in vaccine research and development and life sciences. The new Biological Security Strategy will make an important contribution to our preparedness.”

Cassidy Nelson, head of biosecurity policy at the Centre for Long-Term Resilience, commented: “This much-needed strategy underscores the UK’s role as a global leader in enhancing resilience against biological risks We welcome the goal to achieve resilience to the full spectrum of biological threats by 2030 and commend the use of built-in accountability measures to drive the implementation of the strategy.

"We now need sustained resourcing and prioritisation to achieve tangible improvements to the UK’s biosecurity capabilities on such an ambitious timeline".

The Biological Security Strategy follows the recent launch of the life-saving UK-wide Emergency Alerts system, intended to enable the government and the emergency services to send an alert directly to all mobile phones when the country's citizens are in immediate danger.

After a test of the system was initiated in April, a review was later carried out to find out why some smartphones did not receive the notification.

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