Scotland is to move back into a phase of tracing, testing and isolation with every single Health Board being able to test.
The long awaited plan from the Scottish Government on its management to the pandemic Covid19 has been published today, 23rd of April.
The document is the start of a ‘discussion’ with citizens about the way forward as Scotland approaches a new normal where mass gatherings will still continue to be prohibited and social distancing will also continue.
Scotland has been in lockdown since 23rd of March although many people had already taken steps to self isolate before that date. It is now hoped to move into a transition period with some relaxation but with social distancing continuing. Scotland does not have control over its borders – that is a power reserved to the UK Government – and worryingly people continue to arrive at airports in their thousands from Covid19 infected countries with no testing being done. Ports are also part of border control – a major issue for Scotland’s coastal and island communities.
The Scottish Government plan is in response to the slightly fewer number of Covid19 positively tested patients being admitted to hospital.
The document also suggests that there may be the possibility of having different regional options – so for instance Orkney and the Western Isles where confirmed Covid19 cases have been much less than elsewhere – could have different lockdown conditions. This is still very much at the proposal stage and would need more evidence from tracing, testing and isolation. A relaxation too early in island and rural communities where there are fewer medical facilities would be disastrous. It would be equally devastating to those communities if visitors and second home owners try to re-locate to those areas putting even more pressure on the local health and social care services.
Large gatherings in pubs and events are likely to be impossible for some considerable time but the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, did hint at the possibility of schools – at least for some pupils – being able to reopen. This would also need a re-configuration of learning settings where pupils are used to working in groups and sitting at shared tables.
If cases of Covid19 were to rise after a period of a partial relaxation of lockdown the Scottish Government would take the decision to reimpose restrictions in order to contain the spread of the virus.
Shielding would continue for the most vulnerable to some extent.
Easing restrictions in particular settings is likely to see the continuation of physical distancing and other hygiene measures (such as maintaining 2 metre distancing when premises re-open and/or limiting the number of people that can be in confined spaces at the same time).
There will be no back to normal for Scotland – but there will be a transition to a new normal.
The Scottish Government has set out what it needs to do now:
1. Effective disease surveillance. We need to understand where the virus is and how prevalent it is.
2. Early identification and isolation of possible cases. High population awareness of symptoms, clear action on what to do if you have them, high propensity to act.
3. Early and rapid testing to confirm cases.
4. Early and effective tracing of everyone a confirmed case has been in contact with over a certain period. This will need to involve digital tools and require active support from the public, as well as support from contact tracing teams.
5. Early and sustained isolation of contacts. Chains of transmission can only be broken if those who could transmit the disease to others are isolated so they cannot do so, and get the support they need to maintain that isolation.
Some business sectors will be able to reopen – perhaps those connected with outdoor work – but some will need to re-configure what they do. No doubt many have already taken those steps. Businesses will continue to be offered support both in advice and financially.
It should be stressed that this is a working document – open to change and discussion – and that is how people should view it.
And the advice as ever is to stay at home, leave only for daily exercise, essential shopping and medicines. To continue to observe social distancing and personal hygiene measures.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame