Dr Gregor Smith, coronavirus and FM Nicola Sturgeon.
By Democrat reporter
BBC Scotland is reporting that coronavirus may have been spreading in Scotland before the first cases were confirmed at the start of March, the chief medical officer has said.
Dr Gregor Smith said scientists had identified early cases of the virus which had no clear link to travel.
He said this suggested that coronavirus was likely to have been spreading in the community in February.
But he stressed that these cases were likely to have been “very few in number”.
Dr Smith also said there were thought to have been at least 112 separate introductions of Covid-19 to Scotland.
These cases were ultimately responsible for sustained community transmission of the virus across the country.
The chief medical officer also said there was no evidence of any wider outbreak linked to a Nike conference in Edinburgh in February.
The first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Scotland was announced on 1 March, when a patient was diagnosed after returning home to Tayside from Italy.
Dr Smith said scientists in Scotland were using “cutting edge” techniques to help understand how the virus had later spread across the country.
They have been doing this by identifying the subtle molecular differences in the virus from people who have been infected.
This allows them to effectively create “family trees” for the virus so it can be tracked in time and place.
Dr Smith said: “The use of this next generation sequencing technology has allowed us to identify at least 112 separate introductions of Covid-19 across Scotland that ultimately led to sustained community transmission.
“It has identified viral lineages with no clear link to travel at the very early stages of the outbreak in Scotland, suggesting that there may have been earlier introduction to Scotland and community spread even before the first cases emerged.
“In this respect, the emergence of continental Europe as the global epicentre of the epidemic appears to have been the main source of the particular lineages that have established in Scotland.”
Dr Smith also said the technology had suggested that an outbreak of the virus at a Nike conference in Edinburgh at the end of February had been successfully contained.
He added: “This particular sub lineage of the virus has not been detected in Scotland since towards the end of March.
“This suggests that the actions taken to manage this outbreak were successful in containing spread and have led to the eradication of this particular viral lineage, with no evidence of any wider outbreak associated with it in Scotland since that time.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that while the research showed cases could have been imported to Scotland in February, “none of the broader evidence” she had examined suggested there had been a “spike” of deaths at the time.
Ms Sturgeon was speaking as she confirmed that seven people have died in the past 24 hours after testing positive for coronavirus.
They are the first deaths to have been recorded by this measure for three days.