Coronavirus in Scotland: Q&A with Professor Jason Leitch

The National Clinical Director appeared on the radio to take questions on the coronavirus pandemic

Professor Jason Leitch, the country’s National Clinical Director appeared on BBC Scotland’s GMS this morning to answer listeners questions on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Recent government statistics show that there are 1,563 positive cases across Scotland, with the deaths rising to 47.

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National Clinical Director Jason Leitch does a Q&A

The Clinical Director took to the radio to help clear up some confusion and questions about the public health advice. Here are some of the questions and responses.

Q: When will the health board send the letters to those at risk?

A: The health boards started sending them out at the end of last week and the vast majority of them are expected to be out during this week, with the final batch going out in the next few days. Professor Leitch advises that if you are worried that you are at risk and have not received a letter, then your GP should be able to help you.

The letter is to remind the people at risk, now called the ‘shielded group’ to stay isolated, possibly even within their own household.

The Professor intimated that there would be a government initiative to ensure that this shielded group will have their shopping and medication delivered to them by local groups.

He commented: “It’s awful. I can’t tell you what it feels like to draft these letters to people who are already very vulnerable.

“The risk for them is so great when getting this virus.

Q: The caller stated that they were a regular blood donor - is this still possible during the pandemic?

A: Professor Leitch was delighted by the question, emphatically stating that those who are not showing symptoms should definitely continue to give blood. He explains that it is not possible to store blood, and therefore it is crucial that people continue to donate, as long as they stick to the social distancing guidelines.

Q: This question was specific to the caller who has MS relapse remission, who keeps well and was wondering if it was possible to do her own shopping.

A: The Professor said that MS doesn’t make you immunocompromised depending on where you are on the journey, but he stated: ‘This is a horrible sentence: If you can send somebody healthier than you to get your shopping, then you should. That’s true of everybody.’

If this isn’t possible, then yes, she can do her own shopping but within the normal public health guidelines, though maybe stay local rather than larger supermarkets.

Q: Whether it was possible to be added to the list if anticipating a diagnosis that would place you in the shielded group - the caller was expecting a diagnosis of myeloma.

A: The professor answered the affirmative, saying that local health boards can add people to the shielded list, and can therefore forward all the advice required.

In the meantime, the caller was advised to social distance as much as possible, to isolate and be careful of visitors.

Q: A community nurse was concerned at the precautions they should be taking when paying social care visits to patients' homes.

A: Professor Leitch said that research has been done recently by Fiona McQueen, Chief Nursing Officer, that covers home visits by social care and community nurses and this can be found on the NHS Inform website.

Q: What is the value of a mask and who should wear them?

A: Professor Leitch has said that ‘the scientific evidence is weak to zero that it protects the population from the virus in any critical way’.

When discussing the guidelines other countries have put in place enforcing mask wearing, the profesor added: ‘I am reluctant to criticise other countries that recommend masks’ though confirmed that Scotland would not be recommending this.

Q: Can a shielded person take a short journey if there is no chance that they would meet anyone else.

A: Professor Leitch suggested not, saying: “Remember we are reducing risk. This is all about risk. On face value it seems absolutely fine...but you cannot guarantee that there is no risk.”

Q: What will have to happen for this pandemic to end?

A: Professor Leitch claimed that the length and end of this will depend on the public’s ability to follow the public health guidelines that have been set down.

If advice is followed, then it could be a matter of weeks before the lockdown rules are slowly relaxed.

He commented: “The numbers have to stabilise.The number of new infections should stabilise, then mortality rate stabilise and fall and health service redesigned and ready.”

He intimated that when this happens, the rules could be relaxed.

Q: The caller related how his sister was terminally ill, and wanted clarification on whether he could travel across the country to see her before she passed away.

A: The Professor said: “We are not removing compassion from the country - of course you can visit her...of course you should do everything you would normally do as a family in this situation, just be cautious about your own health a little bit more than you would have been before.

“We must remember how compassionate our country is and how important it is for human beings to have that compassionate contact.”

Q: Several messages, alongside a caller, asked about the possibility of having coronavirus back in January, as many suffered with persistent coughs and symptoms similar to COVID-19.

A: Professor Leitch said it was unlikely, and that the virus was “very rare” in January and the cases were traced and monitored.

He added: “Winter is winter, coronavirus is not the only disease, colds and flus are as common as they always were. In January, it was more likely to have the flu rather than coronavirus.”

Q: Across the media, there are more and more cases of ‘young, fit, healthy people’ dying from coronavirus.

A: Professor Leitch confirmed that there were some stories of young people getting very sick from the virus which correlates with the coronavirus graph which goes upwards with age, it does not spare the young.

Q: Will this pop up again - even if the curve is flattened?

A: Professor Leitch claimed that the honest answer was that it was impossible to know. He added: “That’s what we’re looking to other countries for. We’re not that far into it...every new country learns from the country that was hit before. We will watch how it behaves seasonally, and as we learn more about the virus in the wild after restrictions are lifted.”

The professor also intimated that a vaccine would be available at the end of the year or the beginning of next.

He concluded: “There is no suggestion that we are getting rid of coronavirus anytime soon”.