Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered the army to draw up a contingency plan for a potential four-way crisis this winter, a senior military official has confirmed.
Lt Gen Douglas Chalmers told the House of Lords public services committee that the planning revolves around a worst-case scenario in which the UK is hit by a coronavirus spike, the onset of the flu season, Brexit disruptions, and winter flooding at the same time.
“The [coronavirus] crisis is still very firmly with us, and definitely as we look towards the winter now, we know about the normal flu season…we’re obviously transitioning out of the EU, and we have our normal floods that come on,” he said on Wednesday.
Chalmers, the head of military strategy and operations at the Ministry of Defence, said the military was holding tabletop exercises “very routinely” and would support “some of the departmental tabletop exercising in Whitehall and local resilience forums.”
He added: “No 10 has been very clear those exercises need to be done by the end of August in order that we can learn from them and then act on some of those elements that have been brought forward.”
The comments came as part of the parliamentary inquiry into the lessons that can be drawn from the pandemic and the future role of public services in potential outbreaks.
Boris Johnson, who vehemently opposes a second round of restrictions, on Wednesday warned lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs that the UK could see another wave of the coronavirus if it waives restrictions too fast.
The UK has confirmed almost 300,000 cases of the coronavirus and more than 45,500 deaths. The daily number of new daily cases and deaths dropped to 560 and 79, respectively, as of Wednesday, compared with 3,923 cases and 269 deaths on 10 May, when Boris Johnson first announced his conditional plan to lift the lockdown.
Professor Ian Diamond, head of the Office for National Statistics, said last week that the partial loosening of restrictions in May has not led to a spike in new cases, but the nation needs to be “ever vigilant” for a second wave in the autumn.
Flu (influenza) is estimated to kill an average of 17,000 people in the UK each year and is blamed, coupled with cold weather, for excess deaths in winter, which reached a 40-year high in the 2017-2018 season.
With the post-Brexit EU trade negotiations in a deadlock, uncertainty is growing over whether the UK will be able to strike free trade agreements with its major trading partners.
Andrew Opie from the British Retail Consortium warned lawmakers last month that a “disorderly” Brexit could lead to bigger food shortages that those caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The UK often grapples with flooding in the autumn and winter, which is becoming increasingly severe due to climate change. The winter of 2015/16 saw devastating floods that were the most extreme on record.