Inverness and Highlands prepare for the worst-case scenario

Raigmore Hospital faces potentially its biggest challenge.

Coronavirus crisis grips city

by Colin Campbell                                                                                                              Monday, March 16

THE coronavirus has been overwhelming in its scale and impact, and the speed with which attitudes towards to it have changed. Scenarios and projections which only a few days ago seemed rampant alarmism are now accepted as likely, and perhaps inevitable.

 We just don’t know.

 We don’t know if many hundreds of people in Inverness and the Highlands could end up dying from coronavirus – covid-19. We don’t know if hospitals and GPs will be unable to cope with the number of infected people and – as in Italy – will have to be selective in who they treat.

 We don’t know if supermarkets will run out of food and basic supplies and end up with third-world shortages and rows of empty shelves. We don’t know if many stores selling non-essential goods will be closed down. And we don’t know whether normal leisure pursuits will grind to a halt for many months to come.

 And, for the first time, it seems there’s nowhere to turn for fully reassuring guidance.

 Strident critics of Boris Johnson or Nicola Sturgeon risk making fools of themselves. This isn’t a time when uninformed pundits can make a name for themselves by presenting provocatively aggressive views. Nor is it a time when social media rumour, gossip and speculation is going to engage or impress an audience. In fact, the random witterings of those who insist on the best way forward in dealing with the coronavirus have never seemed so puerile.

What does appear to be the case – what we believe we do know – is that the vast majority of people are now taking the virus very, very seriously. A few are still holding out and insisting it’s been over-hyped and, in grievous defiance of all available facts, is “a lot of fuss about not very much”.

 But fortunately, they seem to be in a tiny and ever-thinning minority.

 Hospitals like Raigmore are now said be on a “war footing” in preparation for the virus to reach a peak, whenever that comes. Just days ago we might have scoffed at that as melodrama. Not now. This is no time for splitting hairs over the use of words.

 Highland Council is holding daily meetings at its most senior level. That is welcome and essential. Senior councillors and officials would never, we’d imagine, have believed they’d have to contemplate the threat of a crisis on this scale. But they are now in a position where they are being looked at to provide leadership in areas which fall within their remit. We – and many others – have directed criticism at the council in the past but they are now in an extremely difficult situation and we can only hope they rise to the situation. Gratuitous whingers and moaners should take a holiday – except there aren’t many places to go.

 The hotel industry which has enjoyed unprecedented levels of tourist trade in recent years is now in meltdown, with mass cancellations bringing the threat of widespread jobs losses and closures. The sector will surely recover – eventually – but coronavirus is the ultimate tourism bombshell no one could have seen coming.

 As we write venues like Inverness Leisure remain open. Best advice will be followed and guidelines observed but it’s difficult to see how they can avoid going into lockdown also.

 The atmosphere on the street has changed, perceptibly. Snatches of conversation overheard everywhere are on only one topic. These are strange times indeed, unlike anything people have experienced. In three or four months time the coronavirus could be fading and people may look back at this extremely challenging period and reflect on how we were spared worst-case scenario predictions about the likely course of events being realised. But no-one knows. And as of now, Inverness and the Highlands can only prepare as best as it can for the predicted full onslaught of the coronavirus crisis.

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