How Scotland was preparing for a  global pandemic 15 years ago

Scotland was making preparations for the imminent arrival of global pandemic 15 years ago with ministers warned it could claim up 50,000 lives north of the border, it has emerged.
Vaccine plans were at the heart of the preparations 15 years agoVaccine plans were at the heart of the preparations 15 years ago
Vaccine plans were at the heart of the preparations 15 years ago

In striking echoes of the current Coronavirus scourge, Jack McConnell's administration was advised in 2005 that a pandemic flu was likely "sometime in the near future" prompting the authorities to stockpile anti-virals and scramble preparations to devise vaccines.

The emergence of bird flu at the time had prompted experts to warn a “mutation” with human flu was expected which would wreak the kind of public health emergency witnessed with the current Coronavirus epidemic.

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The preparations were part of a major review of Scotland's readiness for major civil contingencies such as a terrorist attack of major civic catastrophe which was undertaken in early 2005.

It has come to light in newly published papers detailing the minutes of then Scottish Executive cabinet meetings throughout 2005.

The then justice minister Cathy Jamieson presented a paper to her cabinet colleagues in March 2005 which set out concerns about the possibility of a "flu pandemic spreading across the world."

"The effects could be very serious because it could take time to develop a vaccine," Ms Jamieson states in a memo to cabinet colleagues after a report carried out by a ministerial group on civil contingencies.

"A realistic worst estimate for planning purposes is that round 450-500,000 people could in the UK - and by extrapolation 40-50,000 in Scotland.

"Much will depend on the nature of the virus and effectiveness of anti-virals that we are procuring."

Officials in the then Scottish Executive were overseeing plans to deal with the looming situation with warnings that a quarter of the Scots population could be infected. A Scottish emergency committee met several a times in early 2005 to "improve resilience" to the looming pandemic – and a second report issued by the civil contingencies group later that year appeared to warn it was only a matter of time.

"A flu pandemic is likely to start some time in the reasonably near future as a result of the Avian flu virus mutating with human influenza and spreading among humans," it stated.

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And in an ominous echo of the way the current Covid 19 virus ripped across the globe, the report from a 15 years ago adds: "A pandemic is likely to spread very quickly from the far East to Europe through travellers."

"It would take time to develop a vaccine. Although Governments across the world are stockpiling anti-viral drugs this may have limited impact in terms of slowing the spread."

A national resilience capacity programme was established for Scotland to ensure vital infrastructure such as the transport system and utilities remained in intact. Safeguards were also being drawn up to ensure "baseload" supplies to the NHS were protected so that hospitals could access essential medical supplies.

And among the key objectives set out in the programme was to build up an "effective capacity to vaccinate and treat people" as part of an emergency response to an infectious disease such as a flu pandemic.

The civil contingencies review was drawn up in light of growing concerns among the security services about a terrorist attack - just months before the London bombings in July 2005 as Scotland hosted the G8 summit.

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