TEST AND TRACE: FM STURGEON DELAYS THE FINAL DECISIONS

Stay safe far away from the Border and Blackpool and watch the Old Firm match in your own home on the TV, says Sturgeon

Old Firm fans young and old have been warned to watch in their own homes.

By Bill Heaney

If test and trace is the road out of the Covid-19 pandemic, then Scotland is dragging its heels when it comes to implementing it.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said today that Scotland has not reached final decisions on the review of the testing strategy.

There has been widespread criticism that there has been too little testing and tracing and that there has not been enough of it to damp down the spread of the virus.

She told a virtual meeting of the Holyrood parliament: “That review is under way. That party leaders will be invited to early next week will be an opportunity for us to share our current thinking and get their views before we finalise the decisions.

“However, in Scotland, as in many countries, we have had debates and made decisions about the balance between, on the one hand, symptomatic testing—which has to be the priority, because that catches people who have the virus and allows us to identify their contacts and break the chains of transmission—and, on the other hand, testing groups of asymptomatic people on a more routine basis.

“For some time, we have been doing that in certain groups, most notably those who work in our care homes, who are tested on a weekly basis, and the groups of people without symptoms who are tested when they go to hospital.

“We will be looking to extend that, but the selection of groups for routine and regular testing has to be driven by clinical advice and considerations.

“Clearly, we have to be able to deliver it within our capacity, but we are substantially increasing that.

“We have to take clinical advice about the areas where that is likely to be most effective, particularly when it comes to affecting the vulnerable and helping to suppress the spread of the virus.

“Those are the clinical voices that we are listening to and, as I say, we will share our up-to-date thinking with the other parties early next week.

“One group that I have been openly talking about in that regard this week—I stress that no decisions have been taken, but it is under active consideration—are regular visitors to care homes, because that would be another way of protecting the people in care homes while allowing greater normality for visiting arrangements.

“All those issues are under consideration. We look forward to providing an update next week and bringing the final proposals to Parliament the week after next.”

The FM told MSPs that the Scottish Government is legally required to review Covid restrictions regularly. The latest review is due tomorrow, so I will shortly set out our conclusions and the reasons for them.

She gave an update on two developments: the laying of new regulations on face coverings and the publication of further details on how businesses that are affected by the temporary restrictions that were announced last week can apply for support.

Then  she talked about the Scottish Government’s proposed new strategic approach to tackling Covid, and how they intend to involve Parliament in the development, agreement and implementation of that approach.

The daily Covid statistics reveal that the total number of positive cases that were reported yesterday was 1,351, which represents 17.6 per cent of people who were newly tested, and takes the total number of cases to 44,036.

Of the new cases, 450 were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which includes West Dunbartonshire, 374 were in Lanarkshire, 161 were in Lothian and 111 were in Ayrshire and Arran. The remaining cases were spread across all the other mainland health board areas.

Ms Sturgeon confirmed that 601 people are in hospital, which is an increase of 31 since yesterday, and that 51 people are in intensive care, which is two more than yesterday.

Shed added: “I very much regret to report that, in the past 24 hours, an additional 13 deaths have been registered of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days. That means that the total number of deaths, under the measure that is used in our daily figures, is now 2,585. Once again, I send my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one to the illness.”

The figures confirm the trends of recent weeks –  “We are seeing high numbers of new cases, which is leading to increases in hospital and intensive care unit admissions and, sadly, to a rising number of deaths. Even in the nine days since I set out the new restrictions on hospitality, the average daily number of new cases in Scotland has risen from 788 to 1,178; the number of people in hospital with Covid has increased from 262 to 601; and the number of people in intensive care has doubled from 25 to 51.

“For all that, we are still in a stronger position now than we were in in March. Infection levels are lower, the number of cases is rising less quickly, and test and protect is taking a lot of the strain of controlling the virus. Although we are not yet seeing in our statistics the impact from the measures, we acted quickly to introduce restrictions on household gatherings three weeks ago, and on hospitality last week.

“However, the fact remains—for us, as for countries around the world—that this is a critical moment, and our position is precarious. That demands tough decisions from the Government, even if those decisions are, understandably, unwelcome, and it demands a willingness on the part of every one of us to behave in ways that will hinder the virus rather than help it to spread.

“For all those reasons, all the existing Covid restrictions and guidance will remain in place, for now. That means that we should all continue to work from home if at all possible, and that none of us should visit other people’s houses, except for extended-household arrangements or for essential reasons such as childcare or looking after a vulnerable person.

“Outdoors, and in indoor public places that are open, we must limit gatherings to a maximum of six people from no more than two households.

“Bars, pubs, restaurants and cafes in areas outside the five health board areas in which there are tougher restrictions can open indoors only until 6 pm for serving of food and non-alcoholic drinks.

“Pubs, bars and restaurants in Greater Glasgow and Clyde [West Dunbartonshire], Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley health board areas must remain closed completely, indoors and outdoors. Cafes in those areas can open only until 6 pm.

[The lockdown will be the same in the North of Ireland, Belfast and Donegal, where thousands of fans travel tro Glasgow for these games after a pint in pubs such as Beedi’s in Dungloe, pictured right]

“People who live in any one of those central Scotland areas should not travel outside their area unless they really need to, and people in other parts of Scotland should not travel to those areas unless it is absolutely necessary.

“We are also asking people to avoid travelling to areas of high risk in other parts of the United Kingdom. Detail on areas that are in that category will be kept updated on the Scottish Government’s website.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “We are specifically asking people not to go on trips to Blackpool, unless they are necessary. Yesterday, I said that, over the past month, 180 people who had tested positive for Covid reported recent travel to Blackpool. I can report that the figure is now 286.”

Yesterday, business leaders in Blackpool, which is a favourite autumn holiday venue for Scots, hit back at the First Minister and said Blackpool was no worse than some of the places in Scotland which, despite the warnings, thousands of football supporters will travel to in order to watch the Celtic v Rangers’ match on television.

There was a plea on social media yesterday from former television presenter Dermot McQuarrie for the coverage of the match to be extended beyond Sky Sports to “council telly” – BBC and STV – so that more people would have access to it and would stay at home to watch it.

Coverage of the game starts at noon on Saturday. Police Scotland expect trouble and are well prepared for it. Instances of domestic violence inevitably rise exponentially on Old Firm match days. Campaigners have told the Government that it would be common sense to cancel the match until the pandemic is over.

Nicola Sturgeon said: “The restrictions are hard for individuals and businesses, but they are essential. They mirror what many countries across Europe are doing, and we hope and believe that they will have an impact on transmission.

“However, I must make it clear that we will keep the situation under review, and that we will propose further measures if we consider that to be necessary to keep people safe.”

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