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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain


North and South

by our Scottish political affairs correspondent

THE TORY Government has rightly been castigated by many for failing to prepare adequately for the pandemic. Amongst these condemnatory voices are the Scottish National Party (SNP) but they keep their lips sealed when it comes to the skilful planning of the SNP Government, which actually parallels closely that south of the border.

In 2007 a report entitled Pandemic Flu was published, which examined the possible impact of an influenza pandemic drawing on the experience of the 2002–4 SARS virus. This warned that such an event could cause 63,000 deaths in Scotland. One point made was “that the public perception that wearing a face mask in public places may be beneficial is widely held, there is little actual evidence of proportionate benefit from widespread use”. So naturally they were not stockpiled. This view was confirmed in the 2011 Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011, prepared by the Department of Health and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations.

This has not stopped Nicola Sturgeon recommending their use although no legislation has been proposed – but she just likes to be different. Health systems experts Allyson Pollock and Louisa Harding-Edgar say that “the Scottish Government has allowed its strategy and the operations to be directed by Westminster”, and point out that whereas England had its first case in January, Scotland’s only came in March. They say that Sturgeon’s 16th March ban on mass gatherings was “too little too late”.

Scottish Labour Leader Richard Leonard has also accused the SNP Government of failing to learn from the 2015 Silver Swan training exercise, which carried out test resilience for a major influenza outbreak.

This four-day event involving 600 bigwigs from the NHS boards and health and social care partnerships made 17 recommendations, including those about the supply and distribution of PPE [personal protective equipment] and the preparedness of the government in the event of a pandemic.

Leonard noted that: “Four years later, the very same government that commissioned it appears to have learned very little from this exercise. One recurring theme is the ‘difficulties associated with fit-testing’.” He added that there were “striking omissions” in the report, with no mention of the need for testing as part of a pandemic response, before concluding: “This virus is not influenza, it is more like SARS and special contingency plans should have been made to better protect the elderly, not least the huge risk posed in residential care homes.”

The SNP Government claimed that: “We have adequate stock of all forms of PPE supplies for the current level of demand,” but this was only after the Army had stepped in.