Public health expert warns uptake of Christmas lockdown relaxation will determine lockdown chances

Leading public health expert Professor Linda Bauld has warned the more people who take advantage of the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions over Christmas, the higher the likelihood of a New Year lockdown.

The chair of public health in the Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh said the key to avoiding stricter restrictions after Christmas was whether hospital and intensive care capacity was predicted to stay at acceptable levels.

During the Scottish Government’s daily briefing on Friday, national clinical director Jason Leitch said hospitals in Scotland were “coping” and not "ringing alarm bells”, but warned the situation was “very fragile”.

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Post-Christmas lockdown 'remains on the table' as health secretary tight-lipped ...
Scenes like this could return in Scotland after ChristmasScenes like this could return in Scotland after Christmas
Scenes like this could return in Scotland after Christmas

Health secretary Jeane Freeman was tight-lipped in response to questions about the likelihood of a post-Christmas lockdown, refusing to say whether it was “likely” and saying the option “remains on the table”.

However, Prof Bauld warned that positive case numbers were all heading in the wrong direction.

She said: “If you look at hospital capacity, it is looking not too bad. The thing that is worrying me in terms of the data is that this week there are only four local authority areas were numbers declined.

"The numbers are all going in the wrong direction everywhere else.”

The public health expert said it was difficult to predict what would happen after Christmas, but warned the more people who take advantage of the relaxation around restrictions, the more likely it is that stricter rules will come into effect in January.

Prof Bauld said: "It is dependent on what people do over Christmas. If people take advantage of the relaxation of restrictions, then the government will have no choice but to bring in stricter restrictions in January.

"January is really a problem. It is too early for the vaccines to have any effect and it is a risky time of year.

"Unless you are going to see more restrictions, you are not going to see numbers go down. They could hold a steady state, but the key thing is that there must be hospital capacity and ICU capacity.

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"We could have a steady state scenario, but if there are too many people in hospital they won’t have a choice [but to lockdown].”

With the majority of Scotland’s Central Belt subject to level three restrictions, Prof Bauld said it was these areas where the virus was most likely to spread and where the warning signs of increased transmission may originate due to higher prevalence and more people likely breaching guidance over the Christmas period.

Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health and one of Prof Bauld’s colleagues at Edinburgh University, agreed, taking to social media to call for a “tightening” of restrictions “instead of easing”.

She posted: “Instead of easing restrictions over the holidays, serious thought needs to go into tightening them soon. We need clear messaging to the public about how fragile the situation is and why delaying gatherings and travel is needed.

“From a public health perspective it is risky to be inside someone else's home (or to have people in your home) for socialising (unless you're in a very low prevalence area).

"Meet outside, stay local and err on caution. It's not cancelling Christmas - it's a pandemic Christmas.”

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