Covid Scotland: Demands for Scottish Parliament recall as virus 'out of control'

Scottish Labour has demanded a recall of parliament and for the gap between vaccinations to be halved as the pandemic spins “out of control”.

Monday, 5th July 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Monday, 5th July 2021, 12:11 pm

Scotland has the highest rate of Covid-19 per population in Europe, with five in ten of the continent’s hotspots, according to the World Health Organisation.

In a move away from the position set out by Nicola Sturgeon last week, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said on Sunday that infection rates and hospitalisations will be taken into account ahead of the Scottish Government’s planned move to level 0 on July 19. The First Minister had previously said unlocking would depend only on vaccination rates, and not be linked to levels of infection.

Tayside is the region with the highest Covid-19 incidence in Europe, at 661 cases per 100,000 people, followed by Lothian with 567. Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Fife and Lanarkshire are also in the top ten.

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Vaccination Nurse Lorraine Mooney gives a vaccination to a member of the public outside a bus in the car park of Crieff Community Hospital.
Vaccination Nurse Lorraine Mooney gives a vaccination to a member of the public outside a bus in the car park of Crieff Community Hospital.

Scottish Labour said the government has “taken its eye off the ball” in handling the pandemic, with Test and Protect under pressure and the vaccination programmed slowed, leaving the country’s exit from the pandemic “on a knife edge”.

The party also called for troops to sent “door-to-door” to increase testing.

People required to self-isolate are now told to do so by text message amid pressure on the system, with only those considered to be most high-risk receiving a phone call.

The tracing of secondary contacts has been dropped.

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Covid vaccination has slowed from an average of almost 50,000 doses a day in early June to 30,000 per day last week.

Friday saw the lowest total doses outside of a weekend or bank holiday since early March, with fewer than 25,000 given.

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From Monday, drop-in vaccination clinics will be available in every health board to all over 18s, ahead of the Scottish Government target to deliver a first dose to all adults by July 18.

Labour leader Anas Sarwar called for the time between first and second doses to be cut to four weeks to speed up the rollout.

“It is becoming clearer by the day that the Scottish Government have allowed Covid to become out of control in Scotland and the response from ministers has just been too slow,” he said.

“Right now we should be ramping up efforts to contain the virus, but instead the SNP cut corners on Test and Protect and let the vaccine roll-out stall.

“Parliament needs to be recalled urgently so Ministers can answer questions on this growing crisis.

“We need a plan now for dealing with this - and the clear route out of this is speeding up the vaccination effort.

“By cutting the waiting time between first and second doses, we can get people protected faster and ensure our response to the pandemic is keeping pace with the crisis.

"The government cannot afford to take their eye off the ball at this crucial moment.”

Separately, Labour MSP Michael Marra called for the Armed Forces to be further deployed in tackling spread of the virus.

He told the Courier: “Nothing should be off the table when it comes to getting the spread of the virus under control… Ministers should look at deploying troops for door-to-door knock-ups to trace the virus and encourage people to get the jag.”

Mr Yousaf accused Labour of “hypocrisy”, saying Mr Sarwar previously called for the easing of restrictions.

He said: “The Presiding Officer has already decided to recall Parliament for virtual meetings on Tuesday 13 July and Tuesday 3 August to allow updates related to Covid-19 to be made in Parliament, and for MSPs to scrutinise the Scottish Government.

“There seems to be an element of hypocrisy in Labour’s statement - only last month Mr Sarwar was demanding restrictions were eased and now wants to recall Parliament with cases rising.

“The number of new cases is still a cause for concern and we are closely monitoring the situation. It was anticipated cases would rise as, with the agreement of Parliament, we moved out of lockdown restrictions and we are continuing to closely monitor hospitalisation data."

Test and Protect is “operating well”, Mr Yousaf said, with cases closed on 80 per cent of close contacts within 72 hours.

He added that the JCVI advises eight weeks as the “optimal” gap between first and second doses.

He said: “We are progressing the final stages of our successful vaccine rollout as quickly as we can,” he said.

"This is limited by supply, we can only give Pfizer to younger age groups, in addition, constraints on supply affect the pool of those who had their first dose eight weeks previously.

“The number of infections and hospitalisation will be considered as part of the next review of restrictions in a couple of weeks and, as we work hard to get even more people vaccinated, we would ask everyone to continue to follow vital health advice on social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands.”

Dr Christine Tait-Burkard, a virologist at Edinburgh University, said contact tracing still plays an “important part” in Scotland’s response to Covid-19.

"Despite the high case levels, we actually pick up many more cases with testing than we did in January,” she said.

"In January we picked up about 22 per cent of cases, now we pick up over 50 per cent of cases compared to the ONS numbers.

"So we pick up many more people infected, and Test and Protect would have the best potential to work at the moment.”

Dr Tait-Burkard added that contact tracing may have become more difficult in recent months.

"I've had discussions with colleagues from Public Health Scotland last week which show that people are less willing to comply with tests and protect.

"We see people are not as willing to pick up the phone, they're not as willing to provide information, and they're not as willing to isolate – especially when they have been double jabbed and have for instance holiday plans for this summer.”

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