Government risk reports warned of major pandemic since 2014

Report from 2019 warned a pandemic could disproportionately affect older people, and place greater pressure on our health system

The 2019 risk assessment report said advance planning was critical to help mitigate the impact of  a pandemic, and a whole-of-government response would be needed. Photograph: Getty Images

The 2019 risk assessment report said advance planning was critical to help mitigate the impact of a pandemic, and a whole-of-government response would be needed. Photograph: Getty Images

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An annual government report detailing the biggest risks facing the country had warned of a major pandemic such as coronavirus every year since 2014.

The 2019 National Risk Assessment, published last August, warned that a major pandemic could disproportionately affect older people and place even greater pressure on the health system and its capacity to deal with such a crisis.

The report, published by the Department of the Taoiseach, said that a pandemic influenza was the worst-case scenario for Ireland, and would have the potential to cause “death and illness on a significant scale and to disrupt normal social and economic activity”.

The 2019 report said advance planning was critical to help mitigate the impact of such a pandemic, and a whole-of-government response would be needed “to ensure that threats to public health and disruption of services and society are minimised”.

These pandemic warnings were included in every National Risk Assessment since it was first published in 2014.

That year the report warned that a pandemic had the potential to “significantly disrupt economic and social life, with the possibility of energy and food supply shortages”.

The Department of the Taoiseach began publishing the report to present a strategic overview of the health, financial, geopolitical and other risks that could affect Ireland.

The 2015 report warned the risk of a pandemic had become greater because the world had become more connected, which would “facilitate the spread of viruses”.

In 2016 the report noted that many emerging human diseases with pandemic potential “originated in animals”.

Originated in a bat

Scientists suspect the Covid-19 pandemic that has killed more than 49,000 people originated in a bat and was transmitted to another animal, possibly a pangolin, and then on to humans.

The 2017 report said public information campaigns, vaccination programmes and public service continuity plans had “enhanced national resilience” to the risk of a pandemic.

In 2018 the National Risk Assessment report did not include pandemics as a specific risk. However, the 2019 report contained the most detailed warning of all, saying that existing pressure on the health system in Ireland “could be exacerbated if these risks come to pass”.

The Department of the Taoiseach was asked if any actions were taken on foot of these warnings, but did not respond to queries.