Scottish Tories demand end of Test and Protect and shift to 'living with' Covid-19

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Scotland’s flagship Covid-19 contact tracing system should be scrapped, with the resulting savings funnelled into the mainstream NHS, the Scottish Conservatives have said.

The policy is a central tenet of leader Douglas Ross’s fresh approach to Covid-19 and comes as part of a new blueprint for how the party believes Scotland should learn to live with Covid-19.

The paper, titled ‘Back to Normality’, is understood to focus more closely on calling on the Scottish Government to allow Scots to make their own choices should another wave of the virus or another pandemic hit the country.

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Published today, it will include details of how blanket measures preferred by the SNP over the past two years should become more targeted on issues such as face masks and the economy.

The Protect Scotland app is a key part of the Scotland's Test and Protect systemThe Protect Scotland app is a key part of the Scotland's Test and Protect system
The Protect Scotland app is a key part of the Scotland's Test and Protect system
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The closure of Test and Protect is one of the central recommendations of the paper and is part of the Tory’s shift towards living with the virus rather than directly suppressing the spread of Covid-19.

Scottish Conservative health spokesperson Sandesh Gulhane said the contact tracing system was becoming “increasingly redundant”.

He said: “We are urging the Government to adopt a new, more targeted approach to Covid. We would place a higher emphasis on protecting vulnerable groups and trusting the public, instead of blanket restrictions such as mandating face masks in classrooms.

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“[Test and Protect] was incredibly useful in earlier stages of the pandemic, but it has become increasingly redundant in recent months.

“We are nearing the point where Test and Protect is no longer an effective use of scarce NHS resources.”

The SNP has also been under pressure from Scottish Labour to improve the contact tracing system’s effectiveness after weeks of declining efficiency and repeated failures to hit the World Health Organisation’s target of 80 per cent of close contacts being traced within 72 hours.

Ministers said early last month that Test and Protect would move to a system where it focused resources on those most at harm, with the majority of close contacts being informed via text or email rather than a telephone call, with a contact tracing form then provided.

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Nicola Sturgeon is expected to set out the Government’s plan for how it responds to the pandemic after the February recess in Holyrood.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "Test and Protect continues to deliver an effective public health function despite record numbers of cases.

"As case numbers have risen, more people are being contact traced through digital channels – contact tracing resource continues to be targeted to best protect public health, including ensuring our objectives of protecting the vulnerable and targeting high-risk settings.

“We are thankful to the large numbers of people who engage with digital contact tracing when asked – and ask all people who receive a digital contact tracing form or a phone call to respond as soon as possible to help identify their contacts and reduce transmission.”

Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

It's available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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