Professor Irving takes aim at the UK government for their handling of the pandemic. (Source: Unsplash, Will Irving)

A Nottingham professor has criticised the government’s handling of the pandemic, claiming it ignored warnings from the SARS crisis of 2004 and that its ‘laissez-faire’ attitude may have cost lives.

Professor Will Irving said the desperate need for a Coronavirus vaccine could have been avoided had the government invested in plans to tackle virus threats after rehearsing a pandemic scenario in 2017.

Prof Irving, an expert in virology at the University of Nottingham, was also ‘unconvinced’ of claims that an Oxford University team was on the brink of finding a vaccine – and said US President Donald Trump’s comments on the virus were “bonkers”.

In an exclusive interview with CBJMagazine, the professor said ministers had failed to build on a 2017 exercise which exposed flaws in the country’s defence against a pandemic scenario.

“We were hopelessly badly prepared,” he said. “After failing a readiness test a few years ago, nothing was done. Preparing for a pandemic costs a lot of money, and there’s often resistance to spending on something that might not happen. But the government won’t get away with its laissez-faire attitude anymore. We need to better prepare.”

Prof Irving, who sits on the university’s research committee to allocate funding for studies into the virus, also said he was “a little bit surprised” by claims that the Oxford Vaccine Group – a team of experts at the University of Oxford – was said to be close to finding a vaccine.

“It’s great that they’re conducting trials, and they are looking at Nottingham as a recruitment site for them, but I will have to reserve my judgement for now. We still need the data to prove that it will work.”

More than 35,000 people have died in the UK since the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus in February 2020. The UK has the fourth-highest death toll in the world.

The US is in first place with more than 91,000 deaths and more than 1m cases recorded, according to the World Health Organisation.

Professor Irving described the President of the United States, Donald Trump’s comments on the Coronavirus as “bonkers” and said they fed into the fake news and scare-stories which surround the disease.

Read the exclusive interview with Professor Irving here.