SCOTLAND’S Health Secretary expects case numbers to rise when the country moves ‘beyond level 0’ on Monday – but failed to give a “cast-iron guarantee” that lockdowns will not be needed over the winter.
All parts of Scotland will move ‘beyond level 0’ on Monday – ending all legal restrictions for physical distancing and lifting limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings.
But face masks will still legally be required in certain situations and capacity limits of 2,000 indoors and 5,000 outdoors will be in place for large gatherings. Organisers can apply for exemptions to raise number limits.
Humza Yousaf said Scotland has “made good progress in our fight against the virus” but stressed that “Covid is absolutely still with us” as he warned the winter season “will be a challenging one”.
Speaking on the Sunday Show, he was asked if the Scottish Government expects case numbers to rise as measures are further relaxed.
Mr Yousaf said officials are expecting case numbers to increase with the move beyond level 0 and when schools return after the summer holidays.
He said: “We would expect cases to rise as people interact more, potentially in bigger numbers and also when the schools return. There’s perhaps some sense of an artificial break when it’s the summer holidays.
“We would expect (cases to rise) but of course, we are continuing to vaccinate people which is a real positive. That is the precise reason why we are keeping some mitigations absolutely in place. “Our modelling, our forecasting will hopefully be able to tell us that the pressure that we are facing in the NHS hopefully will remain in a place where we can cope with that.”
The Health Secretary was pressed over some measures potentially remaining in place until after the winter and into next year but admitted “it’s just so difficult to tell”, warning a new vaccine-resistant variant emerging could throw a spanner into the works.
Mr Yousaf said: “This virus, in some respects, can be unpredictable because all it takes, of course, is a new variant to come from somewhere halfway across the world to make its way into Scotland. “Depending on how effective our vaccine is against it, that can make a big, big difference in terms of restrictions.”
He added: “As things stand at the moment, we are on a positive trajectory – the number of positive cases has fallen, the number of hospital admissions over the last couple of weeks has been falling. “We’re in a positive place at the moment – but it’s too far ahead in the future to be able to tell you what will happen in February next year. “This autumn and winter will be a challenging one because of the concurrent risks of not just Covid with us but also flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and other viruses that may well still be in the air come autumn and winter.”
When asked of Scotland can avoid further winter lockdowns, Mr Yousaf said he “would be hopeful”.
He added: “All it takes is one new variant that for example, the vaccine is either not effective or less effective against. “Generally speaking, because we have had such a success in the vaccination programme, there’s so many being vaccinated – particularly those high at-risk priority groups – I would be confidence we wouldn’t have to go into full lockdown, but I couldn’t give you an absolutely cast-iron guarantee of that in the future.”