THIS week’s belated publication by the Scottish Government of a report on Exercise Iris, a simulation of a coronavirus outbreak modelled in March 2018, at least indicates that some forethought had been given to circumstances similar to those which have upended normal life and led to so many deaths. But it is scant reassurance when we learn that it identified a “clear gap” in preparedness, and that its 14-point action plan specifically drew attention to the limited availability of PPE, and said that training and testing needed “to be addressed as soon as possible”.

Those are precisely the areas that have been of most concern, while the report’s stress on “strong national co-ordination and clear guidance” makes it difficult to understand why its conclusions seem not to have been examined by Sage meetings in January or February at the beginning of this crisis. As Professor Devi Sridhar, who is on the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 Advisory Group, points out: “It is the whole purpose of these exercises to learn from them.”

Even at this stage, it remains vital to learn where the Scottish and UK governments, and public bodies such as Health Protection Scotland, Public Health England and other advisory groups have made mistakes. Even if the headline numbers, which on some interpretations have us at the highest fatalities, prove not to be directly comparable with other countries – something that probably can’t be fully assessed until a much later stage – it’s clear that neither the Scottish nor the UK Government has avoided serious errors. On even the most generous estimates, it’s apparent that many other countries have handled this better.

It’s welcome that the Scottish Government should be examining the actions of local health boards and is prepared to “name and shame” those with failings. Just as the devolved governments might properly have slightly different priorities and timetables, it would be useful to know if, for example, the Highlands and Islands could see an easing of restrictions earlier than areas with a higher concentration of infection.

Ultimately, however, such considerations should not distract from ministers’ own overall responsibility for matters such as provision of equipment, supervision of care homes and the apparatus of testing.

In the last, in particular, Scotland seems to be communicating poorly and failing to deliver. Certainly, testing in England and Wales is also in disarray, with confusing numbers (counting tests sent out as completed before they have even been conducted, rather than clear figures), missed targets and the suggestion that track-and-trace will not actually operate until September; but even so, testing here is well below not only Scotland’s own targets but, inexcusably, its capacity.

That’s a political failure of communication. The Scottish Government must have a clear public health message on when and how to get tested, and rapidly step up its delivery.

Neither Holyrood nor Westminster ministers can be blamed for following what they thought was the best scientific advice, but if it was misjudged, that needs to be corrected immediately. And any failing to respond to direct recommendations for action (Exercise Cygnus, a similar simulation, was run for England in 2016, and also not published) can only be the responsibility of the respective governments.

There may be disagreements about whether lockdown started too late and is easing too early, or caused more harm than it did good, but there is consensus on the central importance of wide and accurate testing, contact tracing, shielding of the vulnerable and adequate provision of protective equipment. The manifest deficiencies on those issues are something that those in office at Holyrood and Westminster now urgently need to come to grips with, if we are to not to face further avoidable deaths, even more acute economic damage, a catastrophe in social care and a public health breakdown in areas unrelated to the virus.