Parts of Scotland that have been kept under level two Covid restrictions could have these removed at “different speeds” the health secretary has said, as he warned Scotland could be at the start of a third wave of the virus.
Humza Yousaf said the Government was still “very concerned” about the risk of “overwhelming the NHS” if coronavirus cases surge again.
His comments came after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a planned easing of coronavirus restrictions would not take place in many areas.
While Glasgow, Scotland’s largest local authority, will finally move into level two restrictions from Saturday, there are 13 local authorities: including Edinburgh and Dundee; which will not get to move down from this to level one.
The restrictions in place in each local council area will be reviewed on a weekly basis, Yousaf pledged, as he insisted that ministers “do not want to keep a local authority in any restriction for a minute longer than is necessary”.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, the health secretary stated: “The reason why we have regional variation, and we’re looking at the data per local authority, is because we don’t think a one size fits all approach is sensible.
“Therefore different local authorities might move to different levels at different speeds. I can not look into a crystal ball right now and tell you what local authority will be at what level, but we will review them every week and look at a range of data.”
He added: “Clearly if a local authority is able to move down a level, or unfortunately if it would have to move up a level, we would make that decision as soon as we possibly can.”
His comments came as he warned Scotland was seeing “possibly the start of wave three” of rising coronavirus cases.
But he said this time round the vaccination programme would be crucial in helping deal with the situation.
Yousaf said: “The difference between waves one and two, and what we are seeing as possibly the start of wave three, is the vaccine.
“And it would make no sense whatsoever to ignore that really important fundamental difference.”
While he said there were “good signs” that vaccination could be breaking the link between rising infection levels and increases in hospital numbers, the health secretary added: “We are still very concerned, and continue to be concerned, about overwhelming the NHS.”
He stressed: “We don’t want the NHS to be overwhelmed, please bear in mind that if this is the start of a third wave, as many experts and clinicians tell us, we are at the foothills, we are not at the peak of the wave.
“So we are seeing in excess of 100 people already in our hospitals at an early stage of this third wave, and we have still the peak of the wave to get through.”
Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of Global Public Health and director of the Global Health Governance Programme at the University of Edinburgh, told the same programme that more time was needed to “get both those doses into everyone’s arms”.
Prof Sridhar, who advises the Scottish Government on Covid, said there was “still a large percentage of the population who have only had one dose” while many younger Scots have yet to receive their first injection.
With the vaccine having best results when two doses have been given, she said: “We want to make sure we buy a few more weeks’ time just to get those vaccines into people’s arms.”
While some people may be disappointed to not see restrictions being eased across all of Scotland from Saturday, Prof Sridhar stressed: “The end is in sight.
“People shouldn’t lose hope, this is not going backwards, this is just saying in the central belt we’re seeing accelerating cases especially in younger people, let’s just be slightly more cautious and buy time to get those vaccines out.”
She added: “The hope will be as we head into the future that case numbers will become less relevant as we manage to break, through vaccinations, and treatments, the link between the rise in cases and hospitalisations and deaths, but we’re still not there yet.”
Meanwhile, Professor Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, said: “I think we are in the foothills of a third wave but this is during the vaccine wave so we are very hopeful it’s going to look very different,”
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he added: “During the vaccine period we’ve seen a difference between the cases, the hospitalisations and, forgive me, the deaths so the formula has changed. Now the problem is everybody who wants to be hopeful says the formula has changed forever, it’s going to be completely different now, we can live with it.
“Well, the public health advice is not yet, we’re not quite sure how much that formula has changed so we need to still be cautious but our advice is you can now gradually open, you can do that cautiously.”