UK government warned of 'clear gap in preparedness' for coronavirus

Revealed: UK government was warned of Britain’s ‘clear gap in preparedness’ for virus outbreak – from lack of PPE to testing and tracing infected – following exercise in Scotland TWO YEARS ago

  • Report into ‘Exercise Iris’ in Scotland was shared with advisory group last June 
  • It highlighted ‘unease’ among frontline staff over personal protective equipment 
  • Exercise in March 2018 also raised fears over the demands of contact tracing 
  • Outcomes were shared in June 2019 with Nervtag which advises UK politicians
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Britain had a ‘clear gap’ in its preparedness for a coronavirus pandemic, according to an exercise held two years ago which simulated an outbreak.

A report into ‘Exercise Iris’ in Scotland, which was shared with a UK government advisory group in June last year, also revealed the ‘need for substantive progress’.

Additionally, it highlighted ‘unease’ among frontline staff over personal protective equipment – an area which has turned out to be a key concern during the pandemic.

It also raised concerns over the demands of contact tracing, with one scenario in the exercise about ‘escalating resource requirements for contact tracing and follow up’.  

Clinical staff wear personal protective equipment as they care for a patient with coronavirus at the intensive care unit at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge on May 5

And the exercise prompted fears to be raised by frontline staff over the lack of clarity on the availability of PPE, training and testing, reported BBC News. 

The project simulated an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) which is a coronavirus similar to SARS-Cov-2 but with different characteristics. 

MERS-CoV causes a respiratory disease bringing on symptoms such as a cough and fever, with far higher death rates but much lower transmission rates. 

The report said there was a ‘need for substantive progress on PPE use within Scotland’ and raised concerns from frontline staff over PPE, testing and training.

It said: ‘This is a clear gap in Scotland’s preparedness for MERS-CoV and other outbreaks and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.’

Britain announces 176 more coronavirus deaths yesterday, with the total now at nearly 40,000

The tabletop exercise took place in March 2018 at a hotel in Stirling involving health boards, the Scottish Ambulance Service, NHS 24 and Health Protection Scotland.

The outcomes were shared in June 2019 with the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) which advises UK politicians on pandemics.

The findings were requested by the media under the Freedom of Information Act two months ago, and a report has now been published by the Scottish Government.

Professor Devi Sridhar, who is on the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 advisory group, told the BBC that the exercise ‘feels like a lost opportunity’.

He said it also appeared members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) did not discuss the exercise in their thinking until as later as February.

Infection control nurses don PPE at Craigavon Area Hospital in County Armagh on May 4

The Department for Health and Social Care said: ‘We regularly test our preparedness for emergencies – allowing us to rapidly respond to this unprecedented crisis.’

It comes as the official human rights watchdog is to mount a statutory inquiry into the racial inequalities exposed by the coronavirus crisis in the UK.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said it was a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to tackle deep-seated inequalities and create a fairer country.

The move comes amid a wave of protests across the UK highlighting the anger felt over the treatment of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people.

Data shows Covid-19 is still killing more people in the UK than in the rest of the EU combined 

Meanwhile, the NHS test and trace system is not expected to be ‘world-class’ until at least September, an executive of the scheme reportedly told staff.

Chief operating officer Tony Prestedge admitted in a webinar that the programme would be an ‘imperfect service at launch’ that will ‘improve over time’.

In other developments, face coverings are to be compulsory on public transport in England from June 15 as the Government further eases the lockdown restrictions.

And in further news, scientists said people with high blood pressure may be twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than those without the condition.

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