In preparing for a pandemic, newly opened Scottish cabinet archives from 2005 have uncovered surprising similarities between then and now.
The archives, reported by the National Records of Scotland, show how, 15 years ago, ministers prepared for a flu pandemic that they believed would kill 45,000 Scots.
Reported coronavirus cases have so far killed about 4,500 Scots.
The files show that a flu pandemic, along with terrorism and severe weather events due to climate change, was ranked by the then-Labor and Liberal Democratic alliance as one of the greatest threats to the world.
In September 2005, a paper circulated by Justice Secretary Cathy Jamieson cautioned that as bird flu mutated and spread among humans, a flu pandemic was “likely to break out sometime in the near future”
She cautioned that the pandemic “is likely to spread very rapidly through travelers from the Far East to Europe” and that the production of a vaccine will take time.
Fourteen years later, travelers from the Wuhan area of China, where it originated, initially spread the coronavirus pandemic to Europe.
The 2005 Cabinet briefing said, “Experts estimate that up to a quarter of the population (across all age groups) could be affected. On this basis, up to 45,000 additional people in Scotland could become ill within 3 months if the pandemic spreads to the UK, but much will depend on the nature of the virus and how quickly it spreads.”
As today, with Ms. Jamieson warning that while solutions may be planned, “actual decisions on action cannot be made until a pandemic is underway and the nature of the virus is clear.” much remained unclear.
Minutes of a Cabinet discussion on Oct. 5, 2005 indicate that ministers were advised that “it could take at least 6 months from the onset of a pandemic to produce a vaccine in sufficient quantity to vaccinate the general population.”
Nonetheless, vaccines against the present avian influenza were bought “in the hope” that they would provide NHS staff with some defense against a potential, more lethal mutation.
The minutes say ministers addressed how, in terms of business continuity and service delivery across the board, maintaining public order and protecting health personnel, a flu pandemic will present Scotland with a range of challenges.
Scottish ministers have been urged on multiple occasions this year – especially in recent months – to close schools to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Ministers claimed during the October 2005 Cabinet meeting that there might be “political pressure” to do the same.
The study by Ms. Jamieson, who chaired the Civil Contingencies Ministerial Committee, also said that in order to get vital public health messages across, a UK-wide advertising campaign, including TV commercials and distribution of leaflets, would be required.
Senior officials in public health have been deployed for TV and radio campaigns since the Covid 19 pandemic outbreak in Scotland.