Elderly could be asked to drastically reduce social contact

STV political editor Colin Mackay reports from a media briefing with the First Minister this morning.

Elderly could be asked to drastically reduce social contact Getty

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says the UK governments are discussing social distancing proposals for over-70s which could advise them to greatly reduce their social contact.

On the future of mass gatherings, Nicola Sturgeon warned current guidance to cancel indoor and outdoor events of more than 500 people could be extended to lower figures in days to come.

Asked if her expectations were that the guidance would last for three to four months, she said: “For the foreseeable future, yes ,and potentially longer than that.” 

I asked if that meant we were “essentially looking at the end of the football season?” She answered: “Yeah.”

She said her father was an avid Ayr Utd supporter and that football fans “understand the importance of doing the right thing here to protect the population”. She also made clear that the guidance covering gatherings of more than 500 could be extended to cover smaller gatherings in future.

On schools, the Scottish Government is not preparing to close all of them. Again, they point out that if they do, it could be for as long as three to four months.

The chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood said the scientific evidence is that children are “not very severely affected” by the coronavirus and are “not going to be hospitalised in large numbers”.

She said if it takes three months to suppress the the spread of the virus it would be impossible to stop young people gathering for that long, so closing schools would be ineffective.

The First Minister said there would be ad-hoc closures like we are already seeing but added the Scottish Government is not ruling out a blanket approach at a later stage. She did promise to “give people as much notice as possible when schools are to close”.

On care homes, health secretary Jeane Freeman said she was in talks with councils who were looking at redeploying some of their staff to help out in the care sector. She also said NHS Scotland has ordered about 700 more ventilators to help treat the most serious cases of corona virus in hospitals.

One of the biggest changes right now is the way the government collects figures on the spread of the virus. So far, the numbers have been based on positive tests on people in hospital and showing symptoms of the virus.

From now they will still test anyone being treated in hospital but the daily figures will be estimates based on survey figures from 200 GP practices around Scotland.

Every year NHS Scotland does this sampling in 41 GP practices to estimate the spread of winter flu – that covers around 240,000 patients. Extending the number to 200 GP practices will increase the sample size to 1.2 million patients.

They won’t all be tested but samples will – it will work very much like opinion polling in elections. The First Minister believes it will give a much more accurate picture of the spread of the virus around Scotland than the previous system which may have underestimated numbers.

Firm numbers will still be given on deaths. Key NHS workers will also be tested for the virus to make sure they are fit to work on the frontline.

On herd immunity, Nicola Sturgeon said it was not UK policy to achieve it. She said it would be a by-product of people getting the virus but the Scottish Government’s main aim is to reduce the impact of coronavirus and save lives.

Asked why the UK was not following the actions of other foreign governments in closing down schools, cafes and restaurants; the First Minister insisted she was following the scientific advice and said Scotland was already taking very significant steps in telling people with symptoms to stay at home for 7 days.

She said these are not easy judgements and this crisis is unprecedented and she is not ruling anything out.   

On a more positive note, the chief medical officer said she hopes there will be a vaccine against coronavirus by this time next year.

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