Covid-19 Lockdown (Public Health Evidence)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 28th May 2020.

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Photo of Michelle Ballantyne Michelle Ballantyne Conservative

1. To ask the Scottish Government on what scientific evidence regarding a threat to public health the health secretary and the First Minister have based the decision to continue the lockdown measures, and how this has been balanced against a threat to the economy. (S5O-04348)

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

To judge whether and when restrictions can be eased, we consider a range of evidence on the progress of the pandemic in Scotland, including what we know about the reproduction rate of the virus and data on the number of infectious cases. The current position is that R is estimated to be between 0.7 and 1 for Covid-19 in Scotland. It has been at that level for the past four weeks.

The epidemiological model estimates the number of infectious people in Scotland on 22 May to have been around 19,000. This is the third week in a row that there has been a decline in the number, and a sustained decline of more than three weeks for all supplementary health measures, including new Covid cases, hospital admissions, intensive care unit admissions, and deaths.

That is the basis on which we go forward. It is set out in our framework for decision making and the route map through and out of the crisis. Today, at 12.30, on the day set for the review of the lockdown measures, the First Minister announced some easing of those measures, including some that affect the economy alongside the continuation of the stay at home message.

Photo of Michelle Ballantyne Michelle Ballantyne Conservative

The economy clearly needs lockdown to end and businesses need to be able to get back to work. The First Minister and the cabinet secretary have now said that the test and trace system will be at the heart of being able to move forward. However, we now know that Covid cases began in Scotland during the Nike conference, and it seems that there was a failure to trace those who had been in contact with participants. Why did the tracing process not work then? What lessons has Health Protection Scotland learned from the failure of tracing in that case? What steps has Public Health Scotland taken to correct the failings in February and March of that pilot tracing exercise? As we go back to work, can we now be assured that there are enough tracers in place to make sure that the economy does not end up having to close down again?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

What the economy needs, as the business community has told us, is for lockdown to end safely and for businesses to be given time to prepare and to know that they can put in place the necessary public health measures, so that they can conduct their business safely for their customers and employees. That is precisely the road that we are on, as we set out in the route map.

It is not accurate to say that transmission in Scotland started at the Nike conference. A case was reported before that conference. It is neither accurate nor fair to our Public Health Scotland and Health Protection Scotland professionals, who have considerably more expertise and experience of these matters than I do—I cannot comment on Ms Ballantyne’s experience—and who make the judgments that they make using a system that has been tried and tested in Scotland for many years.

As members will know, testing and contact tracing works only when transmission levels are low. That is why it is critical that the numbers that I just gave indicate a steady decline in transmission levels over a period. Transmission levels are low, which allows us to ease the lockdown measures, but at the same time use test and protect in order to continue to manage and suppress the virus, which, of course, has not gone away.