Analysis: Scottish Government may change direction on Covid-19 response

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is due to give an update on Covid-19 restriction levels on Tuesday.

Most of mainland Scotland is set to move to level one restrictions from June 7, but some uncertainty remains, with Glasgow still currently in level three, and warnings about rising case numbers in other areas.

Health secretary Humza Yousaf said on Monday that some areas may not be able to make the move, and that other parts of the country are giving “cause for concern”.

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However, the Scottish Government has made a shift in its approach to dealing with the pandemic.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will give a Covid-19 update.

One of the biggest questions around Covid-19 strategy is whether or not to push for “zero Covid” – attempting to completely eradicate the virus.

Countries including New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam have had success with this, while a smaller example can be seen in Scottish islands with no cases for long periods.

Much was made of Scotland’s approach to elimination over the summer, with very few cases in the lull between the first and second waves.

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However, there are problems with zero Covid, and it’s very difficult to achieve.

Some experts – notably Professor Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University – disagree that Scotland neared elimination in the summer.

The elimination strategy should be easier for islands, but that only works if border controls are extremely strict. The Scottish Government’s approach has not been, and is completely undermined, without checks at the border with England.

The alternative is to attempt to manage rather than eradicate Covid-19, learning to cope with the virus, as with other illnesses, in a way that does not overwhelm the health service.

This is the approach Nicola Sturgeon has now indicated, hinting at a move away from strict lockdowns in future.

The key to this is the vaccination programme, as if vaccines can reduce hospitalisations and deaths – which they appear to be doing so far – then the disease becomes much more manageable.

The vaccination programme will need to extend further for this to work – it is going well, but still fewer than half of Scots have had two doses.

Another potential bump in the road will be if a new variant appears which is resistant to current vaccines – something which vaccine manufacturers are already working to prepare for.

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