Scots have been told no part of the country is ready to move to the lowest level of lockdown.
National clinical director Jason Leitch told MSPs they can have confidence in the restrictions imposed but the “state of the pandemic nationally” means it is too risky to allow any area to be at level zero in the Scottish Government’s five-tier system of restrictions.
Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Covid-19 committee, Professor Leitch said transmission of the virus in hospitality settings and through social interaction is falling as a result of the latest bout of restrictions.
He added: “We’re going to have to hold our nerve and if we hold our nerve and the number [of coronavirus cases] falls, we’ll be able to gradually release some of those more stringent restrictions.”
He said that two weeks ago there was little evidence that the restrictions were working, but he told MSPs: “I think today, you can reassure [constituents] that it is working.”
Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie asked what areas where coronavirus numbers are low have to do to move into the lowest tier of restrictions.
Prof Leitch said having the lowest number of cases per 100,000 according to the Scottish Government’s grading system, as well as having the lowest positive tests and the lowest hospital and intensive care admissions, is not enough for an area to be at level zero.
He said travel and tourism risks also need to be taken into account, and added: “We know how quickly this virus is imported into countries, or pieces of countries.
“The present position of the senior clinical advisers in Scotland is that no area in Scotland is ready to get to Level 0 because of the state of the pandemic nationally.”
Another factor that may influence a local authority’s restriction level is the capacity in the area’s intensive care units.
Prof Leitch referenced South Lanarkshire, where patients attend one of three hospitals including University Hospital Monklands in Airdrie which has a capacity of 30 beds for coronavirus patients – far fewer than the 76 forecast to be required in six weeks’ time.
The adviser also said the new rules that are due to come into effect from November 2 will have specific advice for people who were previously shielding and are most at risk from the virus.
He said: “What we’ve tried to do in the recent publication of the draft tiers is to link the advice to the high-risk groups – the so-called shielders.
“At none of those levels are we telling people to stay in the house and cut themselves off entirely, we don’t think that’s appropriate at this time in the pandemic.”