People shop at a market stalls, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in east London. Image/Reuters / HENRY NICHOLLS

Top scientists believe that the UK is not prepared for another COVID-19-like pandemic and that the country needs to build a resilient healthcare system if it wishes to avoid such a situation.

It needs to be noted that the warning comes against the backdrop of India seeing a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases. The scientists believe that the new strain, named Arcturus, could also become a dominant strain in the UK.

The new variant has been reported in as many as 22 countries, which include the UK and the US as well. The experts say that this sub-variant of the coronavirus is highly infectious. India has already ramped up its vaccine production and has asked people to remain cautious. Health experts in the UK have also asked people to be careful.

Is the UK prepared to face its next pandemic?

Sir John Bell, a leading immunologist and a member of the UK's Covitask vaccine taskforce, has said that the country is "not ready for the next pandemic."

"The next pandemic could be even more devastating than the last. We must be in a constant state of readiness for the next big health crisis – if we do not act now, we will not be forgiven," he wrote in The Independent. He says that it is "a question of when, not if, another pandemic strikes," and that the country needs to have an "always on" approach if it wishes to avoid a catastrophic situation.

Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, went on to add that the country is no better prepared for a pandemic than it was for COVID-19. "We're in the same position as we were in 2020. Nothing has changed... if anything it has got worse," he told the publication.

What's the government saying?

The authorities have said that the UK has a flexible pandemic response and that the government is constantly monitoring the situation. According to a government spokesperson, a record £14.1 billion of funding for health and social care will be given over the next two years.

"We have flexible pandemic response plans which are kept under constant review and continuously updated to reflect the latest scientific information, lessons learned from exercises and our response to emergencies, including Covid, to ensure preparedness," he added.

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK has also revived its Check-in and Chart service for vulnerable, isolated, or lonely patients.

Even though COVID-19 is no longer the leading cause of death in England and Wales, the government has appealed to the people to get their booster doses and observe all precautions. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the virus was the sixth leading cause of death in 2022. England and Wales reported 513 COVID-related deaths in the week ending April 7, 2023.

Vaccines have been able to reduce the impact of infections on the numbers of deaths and hospitalisations, but vaccines may not be as effective on emerging variants.

Meanwhile, concerns have also been growing about another infectious strain of COVID-19. This strain, known as B.1.1.7 or the "UK variant," has raised the alarm among public health officials who fear it could lead to a surge in cases and overwhelm healthcare systems. In recent weeks, several cases of the strain have been detected in the country.

The B.1.1.7 variant was first identified in the United Kingdom in September 2020 and has since spread to at least 50 other countries. It is believed to be more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19, with estimates suggesting it could be up to 70 percent more transmissible.

However, while the virus seems to be spreading more easily, there is no definitive evidence to show that being affected by it leads to a more severe illness.