Coronavirus risks are not being over-hyped, says Scotland’s health chief

Health chief issues stark warning over outbreak

Concern about the risks posed by coronavirus is not being over-hyped, Scotland's health chief has said, with escalation measures now looking "inevitable".

Professor Jason Leitch, the Scottish Government's National Clinical Director, said he expects "hard decisions" in the coming weeks and months as part of efforts to control the spread of the Covid-19.

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Urging the public to carry on as normal and avoid panic buying, he told BBC's Good Morning Scotland that it was legitimate for there to be concerns - especially for at-risk groups - and the outbreak would last "months, not weeks".

A health worker offers a swab through a car window at a 'drive-through' coronavirus testing facility at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh.

Mr Leitch, who is responsible for patient safety and planning in the Scottish health service, said that the decision to escalate the response will happen in a UK-wide manner once there is "sustained community spread", rather than a critical number of cases.

"Just now, all 23 of Scotland's cases can be linked to travel or people who have travelled," he said.

"We know the route for everybody who has got an infection.

"When we stop being able to do that, which we think is now inevitable, we will have to do something different with society."

The health service is now planning for non-essential operations to be cancelled, once the "trigger point" for escalation is reached, in an effort to free up hospital beds to treat those seriously ill from the infection.

Asked about people with underlying health conditions who are believed to be most at risk, Mr Leitch said: "People should be behaving sensibly and normally with these health conditions.

"Millions of people live with chronic health problems all day and every day.

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"Just now, the advice for these people is to go about their business as usual. Don't panic buy, make sure you've got your medicines in place, make sure you've got friends and family who can look after you and know where you are."

On how to treat the coronavirus, Mr Leitch said: "The reason people are sick is pneumonia and therefore you need to give their body time to recover from the pneumonia.

"This is not a bacteria, you can't give them antibiotics, and until we get a treatment - which we may never get - we have to support the individual to recover themselves.

"That means high-flow oxygen, it might mean ventilation, which is artificially breathing for them, and then their body will - in many, many people - recover from that.

"Unfortunately, those who die are not able to do that recovery and that's often in the very old or the very sick with something else wrong with them, so those with pre-existing respiratory diseases or cancer."

Responding to the suggestion that the response to the coronavirus outbreak has been overblown, Mr Leitch said: "We are not over-egging this pudding," but cautioned against "creating a stigma" around those who fall ill.

He added that the evidence suggests that people with coronavirus are at their most infectious when they have symptoms, but that "the most likely reason in Scotland today for a cough or a cold is a cold, not coronavirus".

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