Coronavirus: Only 'critical' calls answered by emergency services in case of pandemic

Measures to allow retired NHS staff to be drafted in if coronavirus spreads are being considered

Emergency services could be forced to respond only to calls deemed “critical” in the event of a prolonged coronavirus pandemic that would trigger school closures and restrict the movement of people in Scotland.

The UK government has published a coronavirus action plan in conjunction with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations to provide “substantial protection to the public”.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has assured the public that Scotland has a plan to combat the virus. Picture: Jeff J MitchellFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon has assured the public that Scotland has a plan to combat the virus. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has assured the public that Scotland has a plan to combat the virus. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell

The plan details how the devolved governments will continue to respond to the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.

Infection control

A Scotland-specific accompaniment to the UK government’s plan explains restrictions can be placed on the activities of individuals who are known to have the disease, or have been exposed to the disease, and prohibit them from entering or remaining in any place.

It states health boards in Scotland can apply for court orders for quarantine and medical examination of those suspected to have coronavirus.

Further UK-wide measures being considered include using the military to support civilian roles, banning large-scale gatherings and people being urged to work from home if possible.

The action plan also warns if there is a significant loss of emergency service staff due to the outbreak, it would require them to try to maintain “a level of service that fulfils their critical functions”, adding: “The police would concentrate on responding to serious crimes and maintaining public order.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has urged the public to regularly wash their hands and follow the Scottish Government’s guidance about infection control.

If the outbreak worsens and becomes a “severe, prolonged pandemic”, the report explains how the response will escalate from the contain and delay phases through to mitigation.

“During this phase, the pressures on services and wider society may start to become significant and clearly noticeable,” it states. Commenting on the report’s publication, Ms Sturgeon said: “As well as the four nations’ action plan published today, we have also published tailored guidance for Scotland’s unique landscape.

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“The action plan and the detail of our additional resilience arrangements for Scotland set out very clearly what we know so far about coronavirus, the different phases of managing an infection of this nature, what each phase means and the actions that have been or could potentially be taken at each stage.

“Much of this planning is based on reasonable worst-case scenarios, which will be refined as our understanding of the virus develops, but it is vital that we are well equipped to deal with all possibilities as this outbreak grows globally.

“We will continue to work closely with the UK government, Welsh government and the Northern Ireland Executive as part of a co-ordinated response to this virus.”

'Scotland is ready'

Health secretary Jeane Freeman said: “Scotland is well equipped to deal with infections of this kind and health boards and social care services plan and prepare for a range of emergencies in order to minimise disruption as far as possible.

We have a proven track record of dealing with challenging health issues and follow the highest safety standard possible to protect health and social care staff, patients and the public.

“The NHS has been specifically preparing for the possibility of further spread of coronavirus since it was first detected in Wuhan and today’s planning information outlines the processes and protections in place to ensure a co-ordinated response to this outbreak.”

Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood said on Monday that between 50 per cent and 80 per cent of the population could eventually become infected, based on modelling from the outbreak in China.

Despite the high risk of widespread infection, the report states a minority of people with the virus develop life-threatening symptoms, with pneumonia being the most common.

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Similar to seasonal flu, elderly people and those with underlying health problems are at most risk of severe symptoms and death. Illness is usually less severe and less common in younger adults and cases are even rarer in people under the age of 20.

The report adds: “There has been no obvious sign that pregnant women are more likely to be seriously affected.”