Kenneth Lawrie told a meeting of Falkirk Council today that at the moment “we are still in the containment stage” of tackling the crisis, which means people continuing to follow the NHS advice on handwashing and self-isolating where necessary.
But he was clear that things could well progress to ‘social distancing’ – which would mean schools being closed, large-scale events cancelled and staff being urged to work from home where possible.
“Members are aware that this has the potential to be serious and our reponse has to be measured and appropriate,” Mr Lawrie told councillors.
The council will follow the advice of UK and Scottish governments if and when the response moves to a new status – as the Italian government has done in the wake of the infection rate climbing rapidly there.
Mr Lawrie underlined how serious the situation could become as we are dealing with a virus that appears to be as transmittable as seasonal flu but with a mortality rate that is 20 to 30 times higher and, as yet, no vaccine to stop it.
However, he insisted the council had resilience plans that are “robust and fit for purpose”, including one for pandemic flu, which was regularly reviewed to keep it up to date.
“It is clear that we all have a role to play as individuals, employees, employers,” he told councillors.
Every service – including the health and social care partnership which looks after the elderly and most vulnerable – has been discussing the detail of their individual plans with management teams.
He said priority will be given to protecting life, protecting the environment and maintaining the council’s bereavement services.
Mr Lawrie recognised that “particular pressure is being put on home care teams” as people with health conditions are more vulnerable.
The focus at the moment will also be on getting people out of hospital quickly and freeing up hospital beds.
The chief executive pledged to provide regular updates on the situation as it changes.
But he warned there could also be a significant economic impact in the wake of the virus and a recovery plan would be set up immediately.
Labour leader Robert Bissett wondered if there were plans to involve trained volunteers to help deliver services if necessary and the director of development services assured him that the resilience partnership had a strong partnership with the voluntary sector.
Rhona Geisler said: “Clearly what we need to be conscious of are those who are not able to get out of their houses and that’s where the community comes in.”
She urged people to look in on their neighbours and promised the care sector would look after the most vulnerable.
Officers stressed that all the advice they were following was being given nationally, in particular the health advice from the NHS which they urged everyone to follow.