Exercise Cygnus

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Exercise Cygnus was a simulation exercise carried out by NHS England in October 2016 to estimate the impact of a hypothetical H2N2 influenza pandemic on the United Kingdom.[1][2][3] The exercise showed that the pandemic would cause the country's health system to collapse from a lack of resources,[2][4] with Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer at the time, stating that a lack of medical ventilators and the logistics of disposal of dead bodies were serious problems.[5][6] As of April 2020, the full results of the exercise remained classified.[7]

The Daily Telegraph reported one government source as saying that the results of the simulation were "too terrifying" to be revealed.[2] According to the Telegraph, the exercise led to assumptions that a "herd immunity" approach would be the best response to a similar epidemic.[8][9]

A number of news reports criticised the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the light of the conclusions reached by Exercise Cygnus.[2][4]

In late April 2020, The Observer reported that the government had been threatened with legal action over demands to publish the results of the study.[10] The report, classified as "Official - Sensitive", was leaked and published in full in The Observer's sister paper The Guardian (except for redaction of some contact details) on 7 May 2020.[11][3]


  1. ^ Bale, Donna (25 January 2017). "POWYS PANDEMIC INFLUENZA PLANNING UPDATE 2016" (PDF). powysthb.wales.nhs.uk.
  2. ^ a b c d Nuki, Paul; Gardner, Bill (28 March 2020). "Exercise Cygnus uncovered: the pandemic warnings buried by the government". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  3. ^ a b David Pegg (7 May 2020). "What was Exercise Cygnus and what did it find?". The Guardian.
  4. ^ a b Carrington, Damian (29 March 2020). "UK strategy to address pandemic threat 'not properly implemented'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  5. ^ Lambert, Harry (16 March 2020). "Government documents show no planning for ventilators in the event of a pandemic". New Statesman. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  6. ^ Smyth, Chris (27 December 2016). "NHS fails to cope with bodies in flu pandemic test". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
  7. ^ "Nick Ferrari's extraordinary exchange with Care Minister over pandemic test exercise". LBC. 30 March 2020. Retrieved 30 March 2020.
  8. ^ Hope, Christopher (24 April 2020). "Jeremy Hunt says he has no problem with Government's 2016 pandemic report being published". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 26 April 2020.
  9. ^ Gardner, Bill; Nuki, Paul (18 April 2020). "Covid-19 strategies: Britain planned for herd immunity while Asia intended to contain virus". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 26 April 2020.
  10. ^ Doward, Jamie (26 April 2020). "If ministers fail to reveal 2016 flu study they 'will face court'". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 26 April 2020.
  11. ^ Pegg, David; Booth, Robert; Conn, David (7 May 2020). "Revealed: the secret report that gave ministers warning of care home coronavirus crisis" – via www.theguardian.com.

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