Covid Scotland: Jason Leitch on elimination of virus, travel corridors and coming out of lockdown

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Professor Jason Leitch has said Scotland can strive for elimination – but warns global eradication is unlikely, although travel corridors may be reinstated in future.

Scotland’s national clinical director stressed the importance of “striving” for elimination, following a report published today calling on the Scottish Government to pursue a Covid-19 elimination strategy.

However, he added that total eradication could take “many years”.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, he said: “I think global elimination is a long way away, but you can see countries striving very hard for elimination and getting there.”

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Prof Leitch suggested that Australia’s method of enforcing short lockdowns of five/six days shows that “elimination is not eradicating the virus.”

He said: “Just this week in Melbourne, some people may have been watching the tennis with a crowd, then no crowd. So six days, five days of lockdown because they got a few cases.

“So elimination is not eradicating the virus. The virus, in order to be completely eradicated, we need a smallpox-style many-years project, and the virus would probably have to help us.

“But we can strive for elimination.”

Prof Leitch compared Scotland’s situation with that of Norway, a country with land borders and with low Covid rates.

“You cannot travel to Norway unless you are exempt for oil and gas reasons, or you have another reason for an emergency” he said. “And they have pretty low numbers.” 

Travel corridors to ‘eliminated countries’

Prof Leitch also said Scots shouldn’t expect to have the freedoms we were used to in terms of travel “for some time.”

People flying directly into a Scottish airport on international flights now have to self-isolate for 10 days in a quarantine hotel room, under new regulations.

That means most international passengers will now have to pay £1,750 to quarantine in a room at one of six designated hotels across the country.

Prof went on: “Domestic normality at the cost of international travel.

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“We’ve talked about that for the last two or three weeks as each of the european countries, including the UK, has been trying to work out what it might look like in the next phase of the pandemic.”

Professor Leitch suggested that travel corridors to vaccinated or “eliminated” countries with numbers “almost to zero” could allow people to travel internationally with limitations.

He said: “Imagine a world in which Norway gets to zero or almost to zero, and Scotland gets to almost to zero – it may not be a travel corridor that you would seek, but it’s an example, you could then travel back and forward to Norway, then France, then Germany etc. 

“So travellers can come back with vaccinated countries, eliminated countries, etc.”

Route map to exit lockdown

However, he cautioned “the last thing we want is to open too early, and then have to go back [to lockdown].

“That’s why, schools first, families next, then the economy.”

He said he hoped it would be the last lockdown, but stressed “that’s what we wanted the last time as well”.

“No country wants to go through these waves of economic and social change […] but there were 1,100 cases yesterday, so prevalence is still too high and the best way for the virus to mutate is high numbers. 

“The WHO talk about getting your case numbers down, getting your positivty down, getting your hospital numbers down, and your ICU numbers down.

“That’s where we’re headed, but it’s a long journey.”

Scottish Government to publish route map out of lockdown outlining ‘strategic framework’

Nicola Sturgeon is expected to reveal the Scottish Government’s plan for the country to come out of lockdown next week.

Setting out an example of what the framework may say on Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon said it would likely advise Scots not to book Easter holidays, but added that “staycations” during the summer may be allowed depending on the data.

It has been stressed that summer holidays abroad are expected to be impossible.

The First Minister also revealed contact with family would be a top priority,  followed by non-essential shops reopening.

However, lockdown rules are not expected to ease as quickly as they did last summer, due to the faster-spreading Kent variant.

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