Scotland Covid: Time to be 'cautious, not cavalier' says health secretary

Scotland is “past the worst” of the recent surge in cases of Covid-19 but must still be “cautious, not cavalier” as the decision to move the country down to level zero on Tuesday looms, the health secretary has said.

Humza Yousaf said case numbers were “still too high” but spoke of an “optimistic picture” that the country could continue to relax Covid-19 restrictions.

Nicola Sturgeon will give an update to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday as MSPs return to Holyrood for the first time during summer recess.

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The First Minister is expected to confirm mainland Scotland’s move to level zero and is set to provide an update as to whether the complete relaxation of restrictions will take place on August 9 as planned.

Humza Yousaf has urged caution ahead of restrictions easing
Humza Yousaf has urged caution ahead of restrictions easing

Sunday’s figures showed another 2,048 cases in Scotland in the last 24 hours, with no new deaths.

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The health secretary told the BBC that the Scottish Government had begun to “see a stabilisation” in case numbers, adding that a “positive trend” was appearing.

Mr Yousaf said: “From the data that I have seen over the last week, and the First Minister made reference to this at the end of last week, optimistically I think we can say we are past the worst of the peak, this particular peak.

Humza Yousaf has said Scotland will be "cautious" as it approaches relaxing Covid restrictions.

"That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be another peak in the future but certainly we’re beginning to see a stabilisation, a beginning to see the cases level off, still very high, I must say, and we’re beginning to see a positive trend.

"It is a very fragile situation, the data in the last week shows us that this is the first week in four weeks that we have seen cases reduce, not increase, so that is positive.

"If I also looked at the UK Government dashboard, if you asked had I been doing this interview last week, Scottish local authorities made five out of the ten top local authorities, now they make up two out of ten.

"We are still too high, not where we want to be, but we’re seeing an optimistic picture I would hope that we are beginning to level off.”

Scotland's test and protect system is under strain due to high case numbers.

At a media briefing on Thursday, the First Minister indicated she would be taking a cautious approach ahead of the final decision around relaxing restrictions further on Tuesday.

Mr Yousaf echoed the sentiments, stating that opening up too quickly or entirely could send Scotland “backwards”.

He said: “This is a time to be cautious, not cavalier, because if we open up and lift restrictions entirely which is not what we are planning to do on July 19, but if we were to be cavalier and not have any restrictions in place whatsoever then I think that could take us backwards as opposed to the very small, cautious positive steps that we are beginning to see in the data over the last week.”

The health secretary was also asked about comments from his UK Government counterpart Sajid Javid, who said cases could reach 100,000 per day by mid-August.

Confirming that worst-case modelling for Scotland had been done, Mr Yousaf refused to put a figure on the expected case numbers once Scotland has fully reopened.

Instead he stated that Scotland was “tracking somewhere in the middle” of the government’s worst and best-case scenarios, adding that he didn’t believe the country could “tolerate” its share of 100,000 cases per day.

This would be equivalent to around 8,200 cases per day.

Mr Yousaf also denied claims in The Scottish Sun that the questionnaire used by call centre staff as part of Scotland’s Test and Protect had been shortened in order to meet WHO targets.

The Scottish Government had come under pressure after data showed that the contact tracing system had fallen beneath the WHO’s target of 80 per cent of cases being spoken to within 72 hours.

Denying that the questionnaire had been changed for “malicious reasons”, the health secretary said it had been done by Public Health Scotland for “clinical or public health reasons” and that he did not “write the script”.

He added: “Test and Protect has performed extraordinarily well. What we saw over the last few weeks was a swift and steep increase in the number of cases, a record number, a number that we have never seen before in Scotland.

"Performance dipped below the WHO standard, below the standard the Scottish Government would expect, but through the changes including an additional 100 staff which are being recruited, that means that the daily system capacity has increased from 1,300 to 3,800 cases per day.

"With the additional 100 staff coming on board, the daily capacity should go to approximately 5,000 cases per day in the very near future.”

The Scottish Government also said it would consider any change in guidance after reports in The Sunday Times claimed officials inside Number 10 in Downing Street have asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to approve the move from an eight week delay between Covid vaccine doses to just four.

Dismissing the reports on Sunday, the UK Government’s vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi said: “The real-world data, the clinical data suggests that actually the eight-week interval offers that additional fortification in terms of protection with the two doses, at much better than having the interval shortened any further.”

Kate Forbes, minister for finance, had last week said the the WHO’s recommendation for a four week delay between doses was not “strictly accurate” and indicated Scotland’s wait would remain eight weeks.

Asked whether it is planning for a change to a four week gap and whether there are enough vaccines available to meet demand if guidance changed, the Scottish Government said it was vaccinating as fast as supplies allow.

A spokesperson added: “We have one of the fastest vaccination programmes in the world and are vaccinating people across Scotland as fast as supplies allow.

“The current JCVI advice on the gap between first and second doses is clear that eight weeks is optimal - and that reducing that below eight weeks would compromise the effectiveness of the vaccine and how long that effect lasts. If JCVI advices changes in this respect we would, of course, give it consideration.

“Scotland continues to follow JCVI advice as they review all current evidence that is available, and tailor their recommendations to Governments within the UK based on the state of the pandemic here.”

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