Scotland ‘should have continued mass testing in March’

Professor Harry Burns said continued widespread Covid-19 testing 'could have kept a lid on things much earlier'.

STV

A former Scottish chief medical officer has said the testing, tracing and isolating of all suspected Covid-19 cases “should have been continued” in March – even if it meant deviating from the four-nation UK approach.

Sir Harry Burns, now a professor of global public health at Strathclyde University, said continuous mass testing throughout the pandemic “could have kept a lid on things much earlier”.

And he questioned the level of involvement the devolved administrations had in forming the UK’s coronavirus strategy, telling STV News: “I don’t think it was a four-nation approach – they (the UK Government) did all the talking.”

Prof Burns said the lockdown should “probably” have been imposed earlier and will be “very difficult” to lift – adding it was “pretty clear England was led to lockdown fairly unwillingly”.

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He suggested moves the Scottish Government announced ahead of the UK – such as the banning of mass gatherings and the closure of schools – may have been because Nicola Sturgeon “was getting a bit fed up with dilly-dallying”.

Prof Burns served as chief medical officer for Scotland from 2005 to 2014, appointed under Labour first minister Jack McConnell then serving successive SNP governments.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it made sense to “align our activity as much as possible” with the other parts of the UK.

She said the approach of ministers had “at all times” been guided “by the best and most up-to-date expert scientific advice”.

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A UK Government said it had worked “closely with all four nations” and “taken the right steps at the right time”.

When the UK moved to the second “delay phase” of its coronavirus response on March 12, all four home nations abandoned the policy of testing every suspected case as officials already considered the virus too “widespread”.

Lacking the capacity to test, trace and isolate all potential Covid-19 cases, advice switched to asking anyone with symptoms to stay at home for seven days, and only to contact the NHS if their condition worsened or did not improve.

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Swine flu: Prof Burns as CMO with then-health secretary Nicola Sturgeon in 2009, during the H1N1 outbreak (file pic).

Speaking to STV News, the former CMO said: “I think the Scottish Government should have continued (mass testing) and said so at the time.

“It might have been a very practical thing – and that would explain why the Scottish Government did it as well – if you simply don’t have the kits, because it’s a complicated test.

“You take cells from someone’s mouth or throat or whatever, and you have to extract the RNA of the virus and measure miniscule amounts of this RNA to prove that people have got it.

“The clever lab people tell me that extraction can be quite problematic.

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“So, it might have been a practical reason, but other countries were doing it: Germany and so on were doing it. I don’t know why the UK dropped mass testing.”

He added: “In Greece and Norway there have been around 100 to 200 deaths. What’s going on here? Why are we so swamped?

“And I suspect it’s because a lot of the virus is out there and we haven’t got to grips with the ‘test, trace and isolate’ approach.”

Proponents of mass testing, tracing and isolating say it helps to suppress the virus by identifying everyone who has it and quarantining them so they can’t infect others.

Germany, which rapidly deployed mass testing, has had fewer than 7000 Covid-19 deaths – a quarter of the UK total – despite discovering its first cases at the same time and having a larger population.

Scottish Government officials previously described the issue of mass testing as “a distraction” and not a “panacea”, saying the tests aren’t always reliable and that social distancing is a more effective way of preventing the disease’s spread.

But had he been advising the First Minister, Prof Burns said: “I would have been in line with the WHO thinking on this: test, test, test, trace and isolate.

“I would have been trying very hard early on to get the classic public health response to an infection, which is find out who’s got it and isolate them before they can spread it.”

The Scottish and UK governments have both made clear that a “test, trace, isolate” policy will be key to lifting lockdown measures, with fresh targets set for testing capacity at the start of April.

Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday that Scotland had exceeded its target for 3500 tests per day, with a capacity for more than 4300 – and said counting drive-through test centres coordinated by the UK Government, total capacity was now more than 8000 per day.

The Scottish Government hopes to raise that total capacity to 12,000 daily tests by mid-May, the First Minister said.

UK health secretary Matt Hancock claimed the target he set for a capacity of 100,000 tests a day across Britain had also been exceeded.

But Prof Burns suggested the UK Government was slow to respond to the crisis at first, borne of “complacency “due to previous coronavirus outbreaks like SARS and MERS having a low impact on Britain.

He said: “The initial things that we saw suggested to me that down south they were thinking, ‘well, this is something in the far-east and it will stay in the far-east and it’s not going to do all of this stuff to us’.

“And there was some history that showed that had happened, or that view would have been correct, if what was happening in the past was happening now.

“I just don’t think they got to grips with the reality of the situation fast enough.”

He added: “I got the sense that UK Government were a bit slow.

“I suspect the Scots and maybe the Welsh and Northern Irish as well were on the case a bit earlier than when the UK Government turned its mind to this.”

UK health secretary Matt Hancock was first alerted to Covid-19 on January 3, before discussing the issue with health department officials and the Prime Minister in the following days.

The UK’s ‘four-nation’ strategy against coronavirus was announced after a COBRA meeting on March 2, setting out a four-stage approach: contain, delay, research and mitigate.

The approach was heavily informed by SAGE (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) along with other advisory groups.

It emerged the Prime Minister’s top political adviser Dominic Cummings had been regularly sitting in on SAGE meetings since February, while devolved CMOs and chief scientific advisers could only listen in on meetings as “observers”.

Therefore, they could not ask live questions, instead having to submit them in writing beforehand.

However, devolved health ministers and officials did attend and give their opinions in COBR sub-committee meetings.

Prof Burns said: “I don’t think it was a four-nation approach – they did all the talking.

“And having the Prime Minister’s special adviser there is puzzling.

“If, as they said at the beginning, it’s all about the science, what’s Cummings doing there?

“It was all about political presentation, I think, and that was a mistake.”

Asked if the country should have locked down sooner, he said: “Probably. I get the sense that Scotland might have locked down earlier.

“But you could see that there would be a lot of discussion at a political level, and it was pretty clear that England was led to lockdown fairly unwillingly.

“Scotland closed schools just before England – perhaps the First Minister was just getting a bit fed up with dilly-dallying.

“Yeah, we might have done it earlier, but hindsight’s a wonderful thing.”

He added: “I was worried people were paying far too much attention to the economic impact and not enough to the fact that this was going to kill thousands of people, which is where my interest lies.

“I absolutely accept the economic problems are going to be serious and you have to balance that, but I really wish tens of thousands of people hadn’t died.”

The Scottish Government said dealing with Covid-19 “is the biggest challenge we have faced in our lifetimes”.

A spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government is engaged in a significant expansion of testing capacity to support a test, trace and isolate approach, which will be a crucial part of any moves to lift the lockdown measures in the future.

“At all times, the Scottish Government’s actions have been guided by the best and most up to date expert scientific advice, working closely with Governments across the UK.

“Decisions will always be made in the best interests of people in Scotland. The virus doesn’t respect borders or boundaries and it makes sense to align our activity as much as possible.

“This is the biggest challenge we have faced in our lifetimes. It is right and proper that decisions taken during this process face scrutiny but all our efforts are going towards protecting life and the people of Scotland during this unprecedented crisis.”

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided by the best scientific advice and working closely with all four nations of the UK.

“At all times throughout the four nations the NHS has had the spare capacity which it needs to respond to the pandemic, with intensive care unit beds and ventilators available to anybody requiring such specialist care.

“The government has been working day and night to battle coronavirus, delivering a strategy designed to protect our NHS and save lives, and take unprecedented steps to support businesses and workers and protect the UK’s economy.”

‘Human swan’ injured and support staff member killed in accident

Dan Burton dies as a result of paramotor accident in the western Highlands and Sacha Dench seriously injured.

Andrew Milligan via PA Media
Paramotorist Sacha Dench was seriously injured in the accident.

Sacha Dench, who was attempting a world-first circumnavigation of mainland Britain to raise awareness about climate change, has been seriously injured after a paramotor accident in the western Highlands of Scotland.

Dan Burton, a member of her support staff, was killed during the incident.

Ms Dench had been dubbed the “human swan” as she attempted a 3000-mile Round Britain Climate Challenge ahead of the COP26 conference due to start on October 31.

In statement, the trustees of the Conservation Without Borders, which was founded by Ms Dench, said the accident happened near Loch Na Gainmhich in the far north of Scotland.

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The statement said: “We are very sorry to have to confirm that Dan Burton, the support paramotorist has died as a result of the accident.

“Sacha Dench is seriously injured and is being treated in hospital. Her injuries are serious but not life-threatening

“Both highly experienced paramotorists, our thoughts are with the family of Dan Burton to whom we offer our sincere condolences.

“The incident was attended by police and medics and enquiries are underway to establish the details of the accident.”

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The statement added that the families of those involved had been informed and that the Round Britain Climate Challenge would now be put on hold.

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Major hunt for missing seven-year-old boy in Ayrshire

Public urged to search sheds and gardens after Carson Shepherd goes missing from his home in New Cumnock.

Police Scotland
Carson Shepherd has gone missing in East Ayrshire.

A seven-year-old boy has gone missing in East Ayrshire, sparking a major police search in the area.

Carson Shepherd was last seen in Afton Bridgend in New Cumnock.

Members of the public are being urged to check their garden sheds, gardens and garages as part of the search effort.

Anyone with information should contact police on 101, quoting incident number 2021 0919- 3162.

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Three men killed and five injured in M8 motorway crash

The westbound carriageway was closed near junction 31 following crash early on Sunday morning.

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Police investigating fatal road crash in Renfrewshire.

Three men have died after their car left the M8 motorway and crashed early on Sunday morning.

The men, two aged 27 and one aged 31, were pronounced dead at the scene.

Five other men were taken to hospital for treatment of serious but non-life threatening injuries.

The incident happened at around 5.05am on Sunday, when a blue Audi Q7 left the road on the M8 westbound near to junction 31 in Renfrewshire.

A 35-year-old man has been arrested in connection with road traffic offences.

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Inspector Darren Cook, of Police Scotland’s Road Policing Unit, said: “Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of those who have lost their lives as a result of this crash.

“Our enquiries are currently ongoing to establish the full circumstances surrounding the incident and we are seeking assistance from the public to help with our investigation.

“Although this happened in the early hours of the morning, we believe there may be other road users that can help with our enquiry.

“I would ask if you were driving in the area around the time of the incident or have possible dashcam footage that you come forward and speak to officers.

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“Police can be contacted by calling 101 and quoting incident number 0860 of Sunday, 19 September, 2021.”

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Demand for GP services ‘has never been higher in Scotland’

Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said he saw double the patients he would normally have seen in pre-pandemic times last week.

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Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said demand for GP services is 'unsustainable' as Covid cases continue to rise.

The demand for GP services is “unsustainable” as Covid cases continue to rise across Scotland, claims one NHS doctor.

Dr Sandesh Gulhane, shadow cabinet secretary for health, said he saw double the amount of patients he would normally have seen in pre-pandemic times last week.

Speaking on The Sunday Show, the Glasgow MSP said: “The demand for GPs has never been higher.

“On Monday, I had 80 patient contacts in general practice. That’s not safe, that’s not sustainable, but it’s the level of demand we’re facing.”

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He added: “Pre-Covid you would have about 20 patients in the morning, and you’d have about 15 to 20 in the afternoon.

“And that’s sort of the levels that we would want to be working to, so it’s almost doubled the demand, and the telephones are ringing off the hook.”

Dr Gulhane said patients need to be flowing through NHS services again to help with the current demand.

“We need operations to start again, we need patients being seen in clinics,” he said.

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“We’re struggling to treat them (patients) and all the new patients that are coming to us, so we need to get that flow going.”

Dr Gulhane said one of the main problems behind the backlog of patients was the lack of anaesthetists in hospitals.

He said the Scottish Government needs to make more of an effort to come up with a “strategic recruitment plan” to hire more anaesthetists to assist with appointments in clinics and hospitals.

On Friday senior surgeon Professor Michael Griffin, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said the majority of the issues in Scotland’s hospitals and the knock-on effect to the ambulance service are not due to Covid.

Prof Griffin warned Scotland has “a real workforce problem in the NHS and in social care” that needs to be addressed and it is causing a “vicious circle” impacting all parts of the health service.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that increasing numbers of Covid cases and infected patients in hospitals are adding to the “very, very complex problem” facing the health service – including under-pressure paramedics.

It comes after the Scottish Government officially requested help from the army to support the ambulance service amid deteriorating response times.

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The comments appear to contradict Nicola Sturgeon’s insistence that the crisis in the ambulance service is “largely caused by the Covid pressure” and it is “the latest in a number of significant challenges posed to us as a result of this pandemic”.


Celtic slip up on the road again as Shinnie secures Livingston win

Livingston moved off the foot of the table after stunning Celtic.

Ross MacDonald via SNS Group
Andrew Shinnie produces a clinical finish to sink Celtic.

Andrew Shinnie’s first-half strike consigned Celtic to a sixth defeat in seven away games under Ange Postecoglou as their poor record at Livingston continued.

Shinnie got across Stephen Welsh and fired the only goal into the top corner in the 25th minute to earn Livi their first cinch Premiership win of the season and take them off the bottom of the table.

The touch and finish was the sort of quality Celtic lacked in the final third as they failed to make their possession and territory count and went five games without victory at the Tony Macaroni Arena.

Celtic got a number of crosses into the box but home centre-backs Ayo Obileye and Jack Fitzwater marshalled striker Albian Ajeti as the visitors ended the day in sixth place.

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Postecoglou handed Boli Bolingoli a recall as the left-back played for the first time since he breached quarantine rules at Kilmarnock on August 9 last year, days after a secret trip to Spain.

Celtic had Liel Abada back on the right wing after he missed the Europa League defeat by Real Betis but were still missing a number of regulars including skipper Callum McGregor.

James McCarthy was handed his first Celtic start while Anthony Ralston was rested as Josip Juranovic moved over to his natural right-back position. Welsh replaced the absent Carl Starfelt in central defence.

Livingston started with five in midfield including three natural left-backs and on-loan Rangers player Ben Williamson, with Shinnie handed the lone striker role.

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Home skipper Nicky Devlin received a yellow card within the first minute and team-mates Jason Holt and Adam Lewis joined him in the book during the first quarter as Celtic dominated.

For all Celtic’s possession, Max Stryjek’s biggest worry during this spell was when he fumbled an overhit cross from Bolingoli.

Joe Hart made his first save from Jackson Longridge’s long-range strike but he was beaten a minute later when Shinnie met the left-back’s low cross and finished from 14 yards.

Celtic still struggled to test Stryjek. David Turnbull shot wide after a loose ball flashed towards him and Cameron Carter-Vickers twice headed off target.

The hosts came close to doubling their lead just before the break when Fitzwater volleyed a Lewis free-kick but Hart threw out a hand to divert it over.

Stryjek was busier early in the second half, stopping Welsh’s header on the line and getting down to hold Turnbull’s long-range effort.

But the game soon went back to the first-half pattern with Celtic playing in the Livingston half but unable to carve out chances.

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Ajeti finally got a couple of opportunities as the game entered the final 20 minutes, heading wide from six yards following a corner and forcing an excellent stop from Stryjek after getting the ball to feet on the edge of the box and turning his man.

Postecoglou made three changes in between those opportunities but his only attacking option was Mikey Johnston, who came on for his first appearance of the season following injury, in place of Tom Rogic.

Stryjek parried from Turnbull but Livi came closer when Hart touched substitute Alan Forrest’s angled drive past the post.

The Hoops continued to push but their final threat came when Carter-Vickers shot wide from 25 yards. 


Woman seriously hurt in crash dies three weeks later

Valerie MacKinnon, 73, has died following the crash on the A87 between Balmacara and Kyle of Lochalsh.

Police Scotland / © Google Maps 2020
Valerie MacKinnon passed away in hospital.

A woman who was left with serious injuries following a crash in the Highlands has died three weeks later.

The collision happened around 1pm on Sunday, August 22, when a Honda Jazz car and a Skoda Rapid car crashed on the A87 between Balmacara and Kyle of Lochalsh.

Valerie MacKinnon, 73, from Sleat in the Isle of Skye, who was a passenger in the Skoda Rapid, was seriously injured in the crash.

She was taken to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow where she died on Wednesday. Officers say her family has been informed.

Two others injured in the crash, the 58-year-old male driver of the Honda and his 55-year-old female passenger, were both released from hospital after treatment.

Sergeant Ewan Calder, Highland and Islands Road Policing, Unit said: “Our thoughts are with the family of Mrs MacKinnon at this time.

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“Officers are continuing to carry out enquiries in relation to this collision and would appeal to anyone who has not yet spoken to police to get in touch.

“Information can be passed to officers via 101. Please quote reference number 1969 of Sunday, August 22, 2021, when calling.”


Hundreds gather to celebrate final day of Hindu festival

Colourful celebrations at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Park as Indians living in the city showcase their culture.

STV News

Hundreds of people have gathered in a Glasgow park to celebrate the final day of a Hindu festival.

The event has been run by Glasgow Indians for the last decade.

Organisers say it’s a chance to celebrate and sustain their culture, and share with family who still live back in India.

Abhijeet Chavan of Glasgow Indians told STV News the celebration helps bring communities together.

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He said: “People can come here, they can celebrate and back home, their parents and their relatives can see that, you know, the culture is going on.

“Glasgow is a city that says ‘Glasgow loves culture’ and ‘People make Glasgow’ so that is the reason, this helps us.

“We really love Glasgow and Glasgow allows us to celebrate our culture right and it is open to everyone.”

Body found near Loch Lomond as police probe ‘unexplained’ death

Discovery of man's body was made in Balloch, West Dunbartonshire, at around 11am on Sunday morning.

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Police investigating after man's body found near Loch Lomond.

The body of a man has been found near one of Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations.

The discovery was made near Loch Lomond at about 11am on Sunday in Balloch Road, Balloch, West Dunbartonshire.

Officers have launched a probe into the death, which is currently being treated as unexplained.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “The death is currently being treated as unexplained and inquiries into the circumstances are ongoing.

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“Emergency services remain in the area.”

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Only Fools And Horses star John Challis dies aged 79

The actor cancelled a 30-date speaking tour earlier this month after only one appearance due to ill health.

Stuart C. Wilson via Getty Images
Only Fools And Horses star John Challis has died.

Only Fools And Horses star John Challis has died from cancer at the age of 79, his family has said.

He was best-known for his portrayal of unscrupulous second-hand car dealer Boycie in the beloved sitcom, alongside Sir David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst.

He cancelled a 30-date speaking tour earlier this month after only one appearance due to ill health.

A statement from his family to the PA news agency said: “It is with heavy hearts that we bring you such sad news.

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“Our dear friend and yours, John Challis, has died peacefully in his sleep, after a long battle with cancer.

“He will always be loved for being ‘Boycie’ and leaves a great legacy of work that will continue to bring pleasure and smiles for many years to come.

“Please respect the privacy of John’s family and friends at this difficult time, and be assured that in the future there will be an occasion to celebrate John’s life – when everyone will be welcome to come along.”

Challis played Terrance Aubrey Boyce in Only Fools And Horses from 1981 to 2003, as well as in Boycie-focused spin-off show The Green Green Grass.

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He recently became an honorary citizen of Serbia, where the BBC sitcom remains hugely popular.

Challis made the documentary Boycie In Belgrade, exploring why the show was so beloved in the Balkan country.

Boycie, a cigar-smoking businessman with a mocking laugh, was married to the feisty Marlene – played by Sue Holderness – and regularly butted heads with Sir David’s Del Boy.

Challis was also known for playing Monty Staines in ITV sitcom Benidorm.

His family have requested that instead of flowers, donations are made to his favoured animal charities – Cuan Wildlife Rescue, Tusk and The British Hedgehog Preservation Society.


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