Sturgeon warns of repeated self-isolation once lockdown eases

Scottish policy paper emphasises coronavirus ‘test, trace, isolate, support’ strategy

Nicola Sturgeon has said people may be asked to self-isolate repeatedly once ministers introduce a new “test, trace, isolate, support” policy after the coronavirus lockdown eases.

The Scottish government has published a policy paper on tackling future Covid-19 infections during later phases of the pandemic. Efforts will focus heavily on “early and effective” identification of new cases through testing, and then tracking down and isolating those in contact with infected people.

The first minister said during her daily coronavirus briefing she was unlikely to start lifting the country’s strict lockdown rules in the near future but confirmed the new policy would start soon and expand as capacity increased.

Sturgeon said a similar strategy had been used on Skye, where local NHS officials launched a concerted contact-tracing effort last week after an outbreak at a care home in Portree affected 54 residents and staff. That led to 26 workers and their immediate families being asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days.

“Don’t think of it as one day you flick a switch and we go from no TTI [test, trace, isolate] to having full capacity. It will build up over the weeks to come,” she said. This kind of policy would probably have to remain in force until a vaccine became available, she added.

Some people could have to self-isolate several times in succession, she said. They may not know the person who was infected but would be told by NHS contact-tracing staff they had to remain at home for a fortnight.

Sturgeon said: “You might go back to work for a week and be contacted again, and told actually someone else has got it. It is not impossible that all of us will find ourselves being contacted and told to isolate perhaps on multiple occasions.

“I am not saying this to alarm people or scare people but it’s really important to get people thinking about the practical implications of this, because it will only work if it has your confidence and your willingness to comply.”

She said Scottish labs would be able to conduct at least 15,500 tests a day, to cover about 2% of the population, by the end of May. The NHS would also need to find and train 2,000 additional people to specialise in contact tracing.

Under Scotland’s emergency coronavirus legislation, Sturgeon must decide on Thursday whether to extend or relax the lockdown for the following three weeks. She indicated that based on the trajectory of the pandemic in Scotland, there was little chance of it being relaxed this week.

The policy document said the new strategy would work alongside existing measures such as physical distancing, good hygiene regimes such as regular handwashing, use of face coverings in crowded public places and disease surveillance.

Anyone who had been closer than two metres from an infected person for 15 minutes or more would be required to self-isolate for 14 days, the document said.

The Scottish Tory leader, Jackson Carlaw, said it was essential the new testing target was met and the policy implemented as soon as possible.

“This cannot just be another example of Nicola Sturgeon’s government saying one thing and delivering something considerably less,” he said.“All over Scotland, the physical and mental health of people is suffering, and they cannot afford to endure this longer than is necessary.”


Severin Carrell Scotland editor

The GuardianTramp

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