Scots face repeated spells of self-isolation after lockdown

Scots face the prospect of having to self-isolate several times until a coronavirus vaccine is found, Nicola Sturgeon has warned.

The First Minister said resources will be in place by the end of this month for a test, trace, isolate (TTI) strategy that will see 15,500 tests a day and the recruitment of 2,000 staff.

Outlining the measures in a new paper, Ms Sturgeon said there would need to be daily testing capacity of 15,500 in place to support the strategy.

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NHS staff are tested at a covid -19 testing centre in GrangemouthNHS staff are tested at a covid -19 testing centre in Grangemouth
NHS staff are tested at a covid -19 testing centre in Grangemouth

She said the approach – to isolate people with symptoms, test for the virus and trace their contacts should they test positive – will require around 2,000 members of staff. The approach may be needed in Scotland until a vaccine becomes available, which scientists have said may not be until the latter part of next year.

In the paper, Ms Sturgeon says people in the community who have symptoms will be tested and that contact tracing will be used “to identify close contacts of those cases”.

Ms Sturgeon warns: “We will ask and support those close contacts to self-isolate, so that if they do develop the disease, there is less risk that they will pass it on to others. And we will 
make sure that support is available to enable people to isolate effectively.

“However, it is important to stress that ‘test, trace, isolate, support’ will be most effective when levels of infection are low – lower than now – and stay low, and that its success relies on all of us knowing and agreeing what to do if we have symptoms, and being prepared to self-isolate when advised to do so.

“This will not be easy.

“In this next phase, we will be asking people to self-isolate, not for their own benefit and not because we know for certain that they have contracted the disease, but in order to protect others in case they have. People may face self-isolation not just once, but on repeat occasions.”

‘We’ve done the best we can’

She also “emphatically” denied the government was wrong to halt contact testing in March.

Asked if the announcement to launch a TTI strategy was an admission that it was wrong to abandon a similar approach in March, Ms Sturgeon said: “It’s emphatically not that.

“In terms of my feelings in what we’ve done and not done, we’ve done the best we can and taken the best decisions based on the best possible evidence at every stage.

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“In due course all countries will look back and critically assess the things we did and didn’t do, in order to learn lessons.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “We’ve been required to build up our testing capacity in order to expand the testing we’re doing and we’ll have to expand that further.

“But it’s really important to understand that TTI isn’t some kind of quick fix.

“It doesn’t work on its own to get, or keep, infection rates down.

“It’s an important tool used in combination with continued physical distancing, hand washing and use of face coverings, and limiting contact with people outside our own households.”

Asked if the government had been slow to recruit the numbers necessary to carry out TTI, as alleged by public health expert Professor Linda Bauld from Edinburgh University, Ms Sturgeon said: “I don’t think it’s fair to say the Scottish Government has been slow on this. This is not an easy process.

“We’ve been focused heavily on increasing testing capacity, and we’ve gone from a position at the start of March to have the capacity to process 350 tests a day, where this time next week it will be 10,000 and the middle of the month 12,000, which is a significant, rapid progress.”

She added that health boards were looking at how to increase contact tracing capacity from within the existing workforce, but that an additional 2,000 contact tracers would be recruited.

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Ms Sturgeon said the strategy would be most effective when infection rates were “lower than now”, although could not specify how low.

The 14-page TTI paper said social distancing and other hygiene measures would need to continue while the strategy was implemented, with Ms Sturgeon saying it would not be a “quick fix or magic solution”.

She said she would need the compliance of the Scottish public, saying: “I can’t make TTI work without your co-operation and compliance, and I only have a right to ask for that if I’m open and honest with you about what we’re doing to build it.”

Scottish Labour said ditching the test and trace strategy early on was a mistake and called on the Scottish Government to begin to develop an exit plan that will “transition the NHS out of emergency status and place greater emphasis on protecting the mental and economic wellbeing of the population”.

Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said the government could not afford to miss its TTI targets now they had been set “for the sake of those suffering in lockdown” as another three weeks of stringent measures were likely.

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