Cygnus was the code-name for a 2016 UK viral pandemic preparedness exercise. Cygnus, Latin for swan, was used as a reference to a fictional bird-flu transmitted by swans.
The report found several important areas of improvement needed in preparation for a future pandemic, including inadequate stockpiling of personal protective equipment to protect health and social care staff from contracting the disease.
When I heard of the about the name of the report, it reminded me of Orlando Gibbons' 'The Silver Swan' -
'The silver Swan, who, living, had no Note,
when Death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:
"Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes!
More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise."'
Operation Cygnus highlighted deficiencies in our preparations, but it was only in retrospect, when the theoretical loss of life in the wargame was translated into the loss of so many real, loved people, that Cygnus found its voice. If only we had listened.
We were told that no-one could have predicted that COVID-19 would occur. It is true that the specific virus could not have been predicted, but as Operation Cygnus demonstrated, we could have invested in protective equipment that would in my opinion almost certainly have saved the lives of some of the health and social care staff who were caring for people infected with COVID-19. Also, the idea that a global pandemic was not anticipated by anyone is just false. As far as I was aware (at the time I was teaching at a medical school), a global pandemic was inevitable, the question was when, and which virus. I myself had regularly been saying in my own teaching to medical students that we needed to be prepared for a global pandemic.
This song is dedicated to all the health, social care, and other front-line workers who lost their lives while caring for others during the COVID pandemic.