Covid: Why Scotland must change to strengthen its defences against future catastrophes – Scotsman comment

Writing in The Scotsman this week, Professor Chris Johnson made plain that contingency planning for low-probability, high-consequence events like natural disasters and pandemics was far from an exact science.

As well as claiming lives, the Covid pandemic has devastated our economy and we must ensure we are better prepared for anything similar in the future (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
As well as claiming lives, the Covid pandemic has devastated our economy and we must ensure we are better prepared for anything similar in the future (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

Professor Johnson, of Queen’s University Belfast, explained how the limits of the imagination of those tasked with considering the worst had been exposed by the eruption of an Icelandic volcano in 2010 – dust from which grounded planes across much of Europe – and also the devastating consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Their thinking will have been changed by both events but have the rest of us similarly adjusted our mindset?

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Now Professor John McLaren, an independent economist at Scotland Trends, has called for Scotland’s political parties to spell out how they would, if elected in May, make the economy and public services more resilient to future disasters.

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He said there were a number of challenges that had to be overcome for “a ‘working’ system to re-emerge in hospitals, schools and the courts". And he also suggested that gross domestic product, at least as currently defined, was no longer an adequate measure of success and should be “augmented”, possibly by “increasing the value of some under-funded public sector services like preventative health measures, mental health services, literacy and numeracy in education” by recognising their wider economic benefits.

Covid has exposed weaknesses in the society we have created. Our job now is to strengthen its defences as best we can and this may require significant change.

For example, if someone working in a low-paid job on a zero-hours contract starts to show symptoms of what they think might be Covid, they have a financial incentive to err on the side of recklessness, decide that they are probably fine, and go to work as normal. Some of them may work in the health and social care sector, but they still need to feed their children. They should not be put in this position.

We cannot ever again allow a pandemic to cause so many deaths, to damage our economy so badly, and to blight the lives of so many people, especially the young.

We all long for a return to pre-Covid times, but the risks are too high and we have no choice but to create a ‘new normal’ that better prepares us for whatever catastrophes lie ahead.

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