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UK Health Minister Announces New Organisation for Public Health as PHE is Being Axed

Public Health England has been blamed for poorly handling the coronavirus pandemic because it failed to ramp up COVID testing early in the crisis, abandoning a programme of widespread contact tracing as the number of cases rose.

Since England has suffered the highest death rate in Europe from the coronavirus pandemic, the authorities have decided to merge many functions of the current Public Health England with the government's contact tracing service into a new body that will be known as the National Institute for Health Protection.

"The National Institute for Health Protection will have a single and relentless mission, protecting people from external threats to this country's health; external threats like biological weapons, pandemics, and of course, infectious diseases", said UK Health Minister Matt Hancock.

Baroness Diana Mary Harding, CEO of the telecom group TalkTalk and executive chair of NHS Test and Trace, will be in charge of the new institution.

The statement comes days after The Telegraph reported that the health secretary was expected to announce a decision about replacing PHE with a new organisation.

People, some wearing masks queue outside a John Lewis store, in London, Thursday, July 16, 2020. Unemployment across the U.K. has held steady during the coronavirus lockdown as a result of a government salary support scheme, but there are clear signals emerging that job losses will skyrocket over coming months - Sputnik International
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Public Health England has been widely criticised for its handling of the pandemic. Prime Minister Boris Johnson even complained that the nation's response to the outbreak was "sluggish" and like a "recurring bad dream".

The PM's comments were interpreted as a swipe at the agency.

Some public health officials, however, have accused ministers of shifting the blame for their own mistakes on the PHE ahead of a public inquiry into the handling of the crisis.

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