NICOLA Sturgeon has insisted Scotland’s contact tracing system is “coping well” under severe pressure as case numbers rise – despite officials being forced to scale back some procedures.
With the number of daily cases surging, the most recent figures show that 14% of cases took longer than 72 hours to close, and 43% took longer than 48 hours. In early April, only 3% of cases took more than 72 hours to close and 6.6% took more than 48 hours.
The First Minister said the measures put in place, including no longer phoning international arrivals for follow-up checks and ending tracing of secondary contacts “is about using Test and Protect resources as effectively and efficiently as possible”.
She added: “We are making more use of text messaging to try to get notification to people as quickly as possible.
“A year and a half into this pandemic, our polling shows that the majority of people do understand what is required around elf-isolation, so people know that more now.
“A text message telling them they’ve got to do it is seen as a good way to do that. It is using the resources of Test and Protect as effectively and efficiently as possible.”
There have been a record-high 25,107 new cases identified over the last seven days and the First Minister pleaded for a collective effort “to try to stem the rising cases as much as possible”.
Her comments came amid warnings that the Test and Protect contact tracing system is unable to keep up with the dramatic increase in cases.
Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said the system is “reaching breaking point”, and she accused the Government of a “dereliction of duty” because of an apparent failure to prepare for an increase in cases as restrictions were eased.
Asked about the impact rising infections are having on contact tracing, Ms Sturgeon said the Government is working with Test and Protect “to support them to flex their resources to make sure they can cope”.
Speaking at her coronavirus briefing on Friday, she added: “Test and Protect is under pressure but it’s coping well.
“It’s still meeting the WHO (World Health Organization) target of 80% of cases dealt with, contact tracing done and in quarantine within 72 hours.
“But the pressure is there, and therefore for all of these reasons we have a collective need to try to stem the rising cases as much as possible.
“So that’s why I’m going to be pretty blunt today that all of us need to play our part in that.
“Hopefully that is just for another few weeks until we get the vaccination programme to where we need it to be.”
Speaking alongside Ms Sturgeon, national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch said there are “shortcuts” that can make the contact tracing process easier, such as people downloading the Protect Scotland app and asking people to fill out electronic forms identifying close contacts from the past 48 hours.
Before the briefing, Ms Baillie had flagged contact tracing figures she said show the proportion of Test and Protect cases closed within 24 hours halved from a peak of 80% in early April to 40% in June.
She said: “Once again our Test and Protect system is reaching breaking point.
“Staff are working tirelessly to keep on top of the growing number of cases but the system simply cannot cope.
“It did not come as a surprise to anyone that cases would increase as restrictions lift. The Government’s failure to prepare for this is a downright dereliction of duty.
“If only the SNP spent as much time trying to improve these dismal figures as they do deciding how to spin them. Having a robust Test and Protect system in place is how we contain the virus in the future.
“We urgently need to put the resources in place to make sure Test and Protect is able to cope and bring the spread of the virus under control.”