The Scottish Government’s intention to lift all legal coronavirus restrictions in early August has been seriously questioned by the head of health intelligence at one of the country’s major NHS boards.
Jillian Evans from NHS Grampian said she doesn’t believe Scotland has seen the peak of the recent wave of infections and that it feels as though the Government is throwing “caution to the wind” when the country is close to having population immunity through vaccination.
Scotland was named at the weekend as the Covid capital of Europe, but the Scottish Government and its advisers insist there is no cause for panic.
The declared number of new infections has been coming down, however, and it is expected that Scotland will still move to level zero on July 19 before a full-scale lifting of restrictions on August 9.
Speaking to Scotland Tonight on Tuesday, Evans said she didn’t think the country had seen the peak yet of the current wave of infections.
She said: “I think what we’re seeing is a slight reduction in the level of testing that we would expect given that infection is so high right now.
“I don’t think we can be assured by the numbers. I would like to think that was the case but I suspect they’re going to continue to rise for some time yet and that will be borne out by some of the predictions that we’re hearing in the rest of the UK and what we might expect to see over the next couple of months.”
She was speaking just hours after national clinical director Jason Leitch told STV News that people “shouldn’t panic” despite a period of record Covid infections.
Leitch said the country “may be over the peak” after witnessing a spike in infections that he partly attributed to football fans watching European Championship matches and travelling to London for Scotland’s clash with England.
But Evans thinks the Scottish Government is planning to ease all remaining restrictions too soon.
She said: “There’s every hope we’ll maintain some protective measures in Scotland, perhaps message to work from home, (the) message to continue wearing face masks is very welcome. It’ll slow down the rate of increase, it won’t change what we’re expecting to be which is a continued surge.
“I would prefer us to have a greater level of inoculation among our population and it feels as if we’re taking the brakes off just a little too soon. I know that our efforts now must be on minimising harm to our most vulnerable people so our attention is very much diverted on trying to get through the next two months given that it feels inevitable that we’re going to press ahead with the easing of restrictions.”
If the rate of growth slows then great but we’re still talking about a sizeable proportion of the population who will become unwell because they’re not vaccinated or doubly vaccinated and a number of those cases will convert into hospitalisations.
“Not to mention the effect on ill health caused by long Covid and the disability effects that that may have. Many of those effects we can’t begin to describe for now. It’s a difficult condition to describe.
“We don’t know what the long term disabilities will be but it feels to me to be caution to the wind actually when we’re so close to having population immunity through vaccination.”
On Tuesday, Scotland recorded six deaths of coronavirus patients in the previous 24 hours and 2363 new cases.
The death toll under this daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – is now 7735.
Evans’ comments also come after five Scottish health boards were named in the top ten for areas with the highest Covid case rates in Europe.
Figures published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that Tayside tops the table of nations described as ‘substantial’.
Scotland is due to move into level zero on July 19, after easing was delayed by three weeks. All major legal restrictions are then expected to be lifted in early August – beyond the Scottish Government’s five-tier Covid-19 system.
But face coverings were likely to be required in certain settings “at least for a period” even when the country moves beyond level 0.
The situation is in contrast to England, where all legal coronavirus restrictions – including mask-wearing, social distancing and nightclub closures – will end at step four of the UK Government’s plan to ease England’s lockdown, which is expected to be on July 19.