Number 10 warned against exiting EU pandemic warning system in wake of coronavirus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a laboratory

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a laboratory at the Public Health England National Infection Service in Colindale, north London. - Credit: PA

Downing Street and the Department of Health have clashed over retaining access to the Early Warning and Response System after Brexit in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Matt Hancock's department want the UK to retain membership of the EU pandemic warning system as part of post-Brexit negiotiations, but Downing Street have rejected the demands, the Telegraph reports.

Health officials believe leaving the EWRS would put public health at risk, pointing out that it has helped to coordinate the response to the virus, as well as SARS and the bird flu outbreak.

The online system, launched in 1988, ties together the European Commission, governments and key agencies to control threats to health across borders.

Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation and its Brexit Health Alliance, warned that "public health is at risk in a number of areas if health is not made a priority in the forthcoming negotiations with the EU".

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He said last month: "Our worry is that all sides in these negotiations are under massive time pressures to agree a future trade deal and so there is a risk that the safety and health of patients and citizens across Europe could be overlooked."

David Frost, the UK's chief negotiator, is said to have been the one who personally endorsed the decision.

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A senior source told the newspaper: "The Department of Health pitched for continued access to the EWRS to be an objective of the negotiations, but it was blocked because they didn't want to be accused of seeking more than the basic Canada deal."

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