QUARANTINE hotels are “under active consideration” by ministers as they plan for how Scotland can safely exit from lockdown without importing a third wave of the virus.
The current lockdown has been extended until at least the middle of February, but new cases have fallen by around one-third since January 4 and there is evidence that the spread of the virus is now stabilising, with the R number dropping to around one.
On Monday, all travel corridors in to the UK were scrapped – meaning that anyone arriving in the country is required to self-isolate for 10 days – and entry is also banned for non-UK nationals unless they have tested negative for Covid in the previous 72 hours.
If only Brexit had meant taking back control of our borders in a pandemic
Travel to or from Scotland “without a reasonable excuse”, such as essential work, is also not permitted.
However, a number of public health experts including Scottish Government adviser, Professor Devi Sridhar, have repeatedly highlighted the examples of other island nations, such as New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan, who closed their borders early and have all but eliminated the virus through strict interventions including quarantine hotels for anyone arriving in the country, and isolation hotels for citizens who test positive, to prevent infections spreading into the community.
Studies suggest compliance with self-isolation is poor in the UK, where people are asked to stay at home but monitoring is limited.
Taiwan, with a population of nearly 24 million, has had just seven Covid deaths
Asked whether these measures could be introduced in Scotland after lockdown, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “The short answer is yes. Issues around isolation hotels and other arrangements are under active consideration just now by ministers and out advisors.”
Professor Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, added that the priority would be to curb any new importations of the virus and that “so-called quarantine hotels would fit into a list of elements that we might consider, and we will have to”.
Jason Leitch warns against booking summer holidays in 2021
Genomic sequencing indicates that the bulk of cases introduced into Scotland at the beginning of the pandemic were brought from mainland Europe, with summer holidays later blamed for “seeding” the second wave.
Mr Leitch said: “If we get over this second curve then it will mean we have to look very seriously at the WHO’s warning about importation of cases, because we have now imported the virus into the country on two occasions: in March and April and then in June and July.
“We will give advice to keep that to an absolute minimum once we get these numbers down, and we will have to do that across the UK if we possibly can.”
Professor Jason Leitch told staff he wouldn’t risk booking a non-refundable summer holiday for 2021
It comes after a leaked video showed Mr Leitch advising Scottish Government civil servants against booking a “non-refundable summer holiday” for 2021.
“I might book a holiday in the autumn or Christmas time but even then I’m not entirely sure what the world will look like in terms of freedom of movement,” he said.
Mr Leitch also told staff in the video that the current Covid restrictions will be eased “very, very slowly”.
Fears ‘ridiculous’ red tape could leave Scotland short of vaccinators
Although the Scottish Government expects everyone over 65 or in the shielding category to get a first vaccine dose by early March, social distancing measures cannot be lifted entirely until the majority of the population is vaccinated or more is known about the vaccine’s impact on transmission.
To date, nearly 335,000 people in Scotland have had their first jag, with figures from Public Health Scotland showing that coverage ranges from 12 per cent of the population vaccinated in the Western Isles to 4.2% in Lothian.
Source: Public Health Scotland
BMA Scotland has asked the Scottish Government to allow GP to order supplies “directly”, rather than placing orders through their health board, amid worries that some practices have yet to receive any doses and others have seen scheduled deliveries cancelled at short notice.
Mr Swinney said ministers were happy to discuss ways of improving distribution but insisted “very good progress” has been made on the rollout.
He added: “We are confident that, providing the supplies come through to us, we have the mechanisms in place and supply routes in place to make sure all over 80s can be vaccinated by the end of the first week in February.”