Coronavirus: Scots over 70 to reduce contact but not isolate

The Scottish Government has advised reduced contact for the elderly but not complete social isolation.

The timing of measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, including asking the elderly to self-isolate for months on end, will be discussed at an emergency meeting.

The Scottish Government will take part in a Cobra meeting, led by the UK Government and involving the other devolved administrations, on Monday.

It is expected measures such as asking people aged over 70 to self-isolate for up to four months, in order to protect them from the virus, will be put forward by the UK Government.

However, this is a move which the Scottish Government does not support.

The country’s health secretary Jeane Freeman said: “The additional measures that we’ve always talked about are about reducing contact for those over 70 and in their eighties, asking them to reduce their social contact because they are one of the groups who are most at risk of this virus making them seriously ill.

“The other group is people who have underlying health conditions whose immune system is suppressed. It’s not isolation, it’s asking them to reduce social contact.

“We don’t want people who are elderly to be stuck in their homes alone not contacting anyone, with their families not able to be in touch with them and to help them. What we’re saying to them is, reduce your contact.”

Freeman’s clarification on the topic of self-isolation of the elderly comes after her UK counterpart Matt Hancock admitted the move could be made by his government “in the coming weeks”.

Hancock said it is a “very big ask” but described it as a measure which is for the elderly’s own “self-protection”.

While the Scottish and UK governments’ measures in the face of the coronavirus outbreak have been closely aligned, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s administration has control of its own public health measures.

The Scottish Government’s national clinical director Jason Leitch also stressed the country doesn’t have a plan, such as the UK’s, to ask over 70s to completely isolate.

He said: “There is no plan to ask over 70s to completely socially isolate as with the symptomatic.

“We are working on guidance for the over 70s to be asked to reduce social contact for their safety. So no bingo, no pubs but family visits and neighbours etc.”

Sturgeon emphasised on Sunday the need for advice to be “orderly”.

She said: “Giving clear and consistent information to public at the right time on coronavirus is vital.

“Governments’ media strategies must reflect the importance of that. This is not a run of the mill political issue. The Scottish Government will set out advice to the public in an orderly manner.”

Speaking about UK Government measures, Hancock said the steps are “very, very significant and they will disrupt the ordinary lives of almost everybody in the country”.

Asked if self-isolation of the elderly was in the UK Government’s plan, he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “That is in the action plan, yes, and we will be setting it out with more detail when it is the right time to do so, because we absolutely appreciate that it is a very big ask of the elderly and the vulnerable, and it’s for their own self-protection.”

Probed on when the measure would be introduced for his government, he said: “Certainly in the coming weeks, absolutely.”

As of Sunday afternoon in Scotland, there were 153 confirmed cases of coronavirus – up from 121 on Saturday – with one death.

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