The UK Health Security Agency head on Britain’s Covid response and preparing for other deadly diseases that could threaten the country
Dame Jenny Harries does not shake my hand as I’m ushered into her office and I wonder momentarily if this interview is going to be more difficult than anticipated.
“I’m just going to be very open,” she says in a way that only a doctor can. “The reason I haven’t shaken hands with you is, I’m just slightly under the weather. Not respiratory-wise – in other ways. I think I’ll be fine. But I’m just not not quite as buzzy as I usually am.”
I relax (and check I’m not blocking the most direct route to the exit). Harries has never been known as a bundle of laughs but her vigour has never been in doubt. She’s of a generation of medics that pulled three-and-a-half-day shifts as juniors and, while most of her contemporaries have long since been put out to graze, she, at 65, remains whippet lean and A* sharp.
It’s just as well. As we meet, the highly mutated BA.2.86 “pirola’’ variant of Covid-19 is spreading rapidly ahead of winter, a new booster shot for the most vulnerable is being rushed out and H5N1 bird flu is causing havoc around the world. And these are just some of the near-term risks she must deal with.

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