THE SCOTTISH Government has been blasted for not stockpiling enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers because the last pandemic in 2009 was seen as a “non-event”.

Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, gave evidence to Holyrood’s health and sport committee - criticising leaders for “not putting enough emphasis on testing”.

Professor Pennington also said he estimated that the R-naught number, the number of people each case infects, is likely to be higher than 10 in care homes, based on the number of infections recorded in the institutions in Scotland.

The microbiology expert said that mistakes have been made with testing, believing “we had a good test available from January 13”.

He added: “We could have done a lot more to get that test rolling in many, many centres. 

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“There was a problem in having a great degree of centralisation. We had the test but we did not use all the facilities that were available.

“We don’t have enough testing kits available to do the testing to a scale that we need. Testing capacity is the thing we must address first of all.”

Professor Pennington stressed he thought it had been a "policy error" to move so swiftly to the delay phase of attempting to suppress the virus and said that testing and tracing should have continued for a longer period of time before the lockdown and social distancing restrictions were rolled out.

Professor Pennington said that “research institutes and university departments” should have been harnessed earlier on in the process to help with testing and said that “not all of them are yet in the house and being used”.

He also criticised a move away from government leaders from contact tracing - suggesting that a lack of testing capacity may have been “driving the policy”.

He added: "I think that was a policy error to move away from the idea of contact tracing.

“I don’t know why the policy was changed, almost abandoning the contact tracing."

Professor Pennington said that following the SARS outbreak, having enough PPE “should have been a lesson that should have been learned”.

He added that governments have not been “paying enough attention to having enough PPE in the sites available to keep up with this surge”.

Professor Pennington suggested that the 2009 influenza outbreak, which killed a few hundred people was seen by some as a “non-event” which led to PPE stockpiles being put “a bit down the list” in priorities.

Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t think she made the wrong choices on testing and introducing the lockdown too early on in the outbreak.

She said: “All of us will do everything we can to learn as we go and we will get to a point when all of us want to look back  and look critically, if appropriate, at the things we did  and didn’t do.

“The easiest thing in the world is with the benefit of hindsight  to look back and say you should have done things differently.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “We have taken the best decisions at every juncture. Will we have made mistakes? Undoubtedly. I don’t think there will be a government  anywhere in the world  that will no be in that position.

“We have taken the decisions that we thought were right  and informed by the best evidence  at every stage of the way.

“Important though the decisions that lie behind us have been,  there are really big, important decisions that still lie ahead of us - as First minister, it’s really important that I stay focused on making them to the best of my ability.”

MSPs quizzed Professor Pennington about the outbreaks of Covid-19 in Scottish care homes - with around one third of coronavirus deaths in Scotland taking place in the institutions.

He suggested the number of people being infected in each care home setting could be higher than 10.The Scottish Government believes the number being infected in the community, following social distancing measures being rolled out, is less than one.

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Professor Pennington said: “Even in the best run care homes, our numbers will be much higher, probably higher than 10. That’s based on the number of cases we get in care homes.

“The virus is really going on the rampage in care homes. The only way you can stop care home problems is to stop the virus getting in there in the first place. It’s out of control.

“These are people who are absolutely at the top of the pyramid who need protection. Residents in care homes are the most vulnerable in the population by definition.”

Speaking at her daily media briefing, the First Minister disputed Professor Pennington’s estimation of infection rates at care homes.

She said: “I recognise that we think it (R-naught number) is likely to be higher in care homes - but where he’s got the figure of 10 from, I don’t know. It’s certainly not one that has been advised to me.”

Professor Pennington said the key to “eradicating the virus” is to get “testing really blasting away” and be able to “hunt for cases”.

He added: “If we get down to a very small number of cases and we do the contract tracing to hunt the remaining cases, what we would like to be in is being worried not by our own cases, but by the virus being imported.

“We could think about eradicating the virus in the UK.”