Scotland's Covid 'elimination' approach superior to England's, say leading scientists

Nicola Sturgeon's 'elimination' policy has been praised by a group of leading scientists. (Photo by Fraser Bremner - WPA Pool/Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon's 'elimination' policy has been praised by a group of leading scientists. (Photo by Fraser Bremner - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon's 'elimination' policy has been praised by a group of leading scientists. (Photo by Fraser Bremner - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Data presented by Independent Sage group notes stark difference north and south of the border

Scotland’s “elimination” approach to battling Coronavirus has helped drive down cases while the situation in England has been allowed to “drift”, leading scientists have said.

Scotland and Northern Ireland’s rate of new infections per million people was around one, whereas in England the rate is almost ten, according to data presented by the Independent Sage group.

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It came as Nicola Sturgeon warned that the public north of the Border may be forced to wear face coverings in shops and on public transport for the “foreseeable future” as Scotland yesterday again recorded no new Covid deaths.

Professor Stephen Reicher criticised Boris Johnson’s Government over its approach to easing restrictions, claiming the “drift” plan consisted of “ad hoc openings” and “cheap headlines”.

He told a briefing of the group that Scotland had taken an “elimination strategy”, focused on driving infection rates as low as possible before taking action.

“In Scotland we’ve seen such a clear strategy, clearly articulated, elimination is the aim and all objectives are geared towards driving things as low as possible,” he said.

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“In England the UK Government hasn’t been clear about the strategy, we don’t see any particular strategy, some people talk about herd immunity by default, but nothing has been articulated at all.

“Instead we see a series of ad hoc openings, we see a series of ad hoc relaxations before we have an adequate test and trace system, so I think it’s ­better to characterise it as drift rather than a precise strategy.”

Independent Sage was set up by former Government chief scientific adviser Sir David King, following criticism of the official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) for a lack of transparency

Professor Gabriel Scally, President of Epidemiology & Public Health section at the Royal Society of Medicine said cases have been controlled in Scotland and Northern Ireland with numbers “heading in the right direction.”

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But he added: “England isn’t in that position and a tenfold difference in terms of new cases and a ten-fold difference between England and Scotland in deaths as well in recent times is very, very worrying.”

The First Minister again made it clear yesterday that the easing of lockdown restrictions must not lead to Scots letting down their guard.

It emerged yesterday that there have been 18 new cases of people testing positive for Covid-19. This marks a threefold increase on the new cases from the previous day and takes the total to 18,333 north of the border since the start of the outbreak.

While the number of new cases remains “very low”, Ms Sturgeon said the rise is being “looked at very closely”.

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However, a link to previous easing of lockdown restrictions has not been ruled out.

National clinical director Jason Leitch said yesterday: “Yes, increased cases, hospitalisations, ICU [intensive care unit[ admissions could potentially relate to what we do, of course it could.

“So as we move through the route map, we will have to keep a very, very close eye on these data and how we react.”

But he added; “There is no suggestion these 18 cases are connected. We don’t know that they are as a result of one thing. It would be unusual if they were, but we’re going to look into them.”

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He warned that if cases continue to rise, it could see Scotland’s emergence from lockdown go into “reverse gear.”

“Advisors could potentially tell the First Minister to go backwards. I, of course, don’t want to do that but that has to be available to us if these numbers go in the wrong direction.”

Ms Sturgeon made it clear she was prepared to do this but played down concerns over the latest mini-spike.

“If there is anything to worry about in these cases that will become obvious in the next few days and we will set out then if there’s anything we think we need to do,” she said.

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Ms Sturgeon said all Scots have a role to play in keeping the virus under control.

“I know how dangerous it is, I know how quickly it can spread again, we’ve seen it happening in many other parts of the world right now so we must, must not drop out guard.”

It normally takes about two weeks for a person to start getting sick from the virus after being infected, which could co-incide with the some of the changes made in phase 2 when some restrictions on meeting up in groups were unveiled.

Several changes to lockdown measures came into force yesterday, including more people being able to meet up both indoors and out.

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The two-metre physical distancing rule can now be relaxed in shops and on public transport, if further mitigation measures are in place, and masks are now mandatory in these areas. Further changes will happen next Wednesday as the hospitality and tourism industry opens up, with Ms Sturgeon warning that phase 3 will last longer than the three weeks of the first two stages.

Ms Sturgeon said yesterday she could not put a timeframe on how long Scots will be asked to wear face coverings in shops and public transport.

“I don’t know how long,” she said.

“I certainly hope it’s not permanent, but I think it is for the foreseeable future. And therefore it’s as well getting into that habit now and feeling as comfortable and treating it as much as an automatic instinct as we do seatbelts now. I hope will get to stage where we no longer have to do it, but that’s not going to be any time in the immediate future.”

Although compulsory on buses and in shops, staff will not be tasked with enforcing compliance with police officers instead now able to issue fines if they come across anyone contravening the new laws.

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