University returns not linked to Covid spike as Scotland 'nudges towards herd immunity'
Students returning to university is not driving an increase in Covid-19 cases in a direct contrast to the situation this time last year, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
Speaking to MSPs on Tuesday during her weekly Covid-19 pandemic update in Holyrood, the First Minister said the fall in overall cases after the recent spike could be linked to university students returning.
It comes after a leading public health expert said Scotland was “nudging towards” herd immunity as it approaches winter.
The rate of Covid-19 positive cases has dropped in recent weeks following a spike in August when daily cases reached more than 7,000 a day.
Concerns had been raised the return of students to universities would drive a further increase due to relatively low uptake of the vaccine among the age groups most likely to be students and due to the experience of last September when students returning seeded the start of the second wave of the virus.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs the drop in cases was “likely to be the increasing level of immunity” and continued mitigations such as face masks could keep cases relatively low over winter,
She said: “This time last year, we were experiencing a rapid increase in Covid cases – albeit from a much lower base level than is currently the case – and back then this was, at least in part, down to the start of the new university term.
“So far this year – although it is still early in the new term – there has not been an increase in cases coinciding with the return of universities.
“Indeed, at this stage, it could tentatively be argued that the reverse is true. As I said earlier, cases in the 15 to 24-year-old age groups, which of course include many students, have actually been falling. That will be due in part to the impact of vaccination.
“However, I also know how much effort has gone into making student campuses and accommodation as safe as possible – and I am deeply grateful for all those efforts.”
The First Minister’s comments came after Jillian Evans, head of health intelligence at NHS Grampian, told BBC’s Good Morning Scotland that “herd immunity” – where enough people have immunity to a virus that its ability to transmit and reinfect is limited – was getting closer.
The policy of herd immunity was heavily criticised in the early stages of the pandemic due to the fact it risks severe infection, death, and long Covid among those who are infected with the virus rather than receiving a vaccine.
Ms Evans told the BBC: “You need all groups to be vaccinated for protection at herd immunity - or population immunity – level.
"We know a lot of people have had Covid, so they have got natural immunity too. So we are nudging towards it I think.
"The likelihood is we will need to continue with boosters and so on to make sure we afford the highest level of protection, to make sure things don't dip again."
Ms Evans said case numbers are reducing “fairly consistently” and hospital admissions were “starting to turn a corner a little bit”.