Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned social distancing measures put in place to fight the coronavirus pandemic could extend into 2021.
Sturgeon said a return to “the normal life that people knew” was “not on the cards in the near future” during the Scottish government’s daily press briefing in Edinburgh.
The first minister published proposals today setting out how the country may emerge from the lockdown and said she wanted to “start a grown up conversation” with the public about lifting the restrictions that have impacted so dramatically on society.
However, Sturgeon said these were “not a detailed plan of action” but more of a general look at how to “shift the balance” in keeping necessary restrictions in place and re-establishing some sort of normality.
‘People need to adjust to a new reality’
People will need “to adjust to a new reality”, the paper says. While children must be educated and businesses must reopen, continuing efforts to suppress the virus will still be needed. It means public gatherings will still be banned, pubs will stay closed and people with symptoms of the virus will still have to isolate at home. Social distancing and hand hygiene practice will remain important tools to fight the pandemic.
Testing, contact tracing and isolation of cases will be vital to control coronavirus and it may also be necessary to reintroduce lockdown measures at short notice if there is danger of another spike in infections.
“The decisions that lie ahead of us, of all of us, are really complex,” said Sturgeon. “We are in unchartered territory and I want to be frank with you, every single step of the way about all of these complexities and uncertainties. So a return to normal, as we knew it, is not on the cards in the near future and it’s really important that I am up front with you right now, about that.”
The first minister said the Scottish government will be seeking to “find a new normal”.
Pressure on Westminster to publish lockdown exit strategy
A report in the Independent says Scotland’s publication of a blueprint to move out of lockdown will “ramp up pressure on Westminster to lay out its exit strategy” while the Telegraph reports growing concerns “about a second deadly wave of Covid-19”.
While experts believe the UK has “now peaked in the first wave” of infection, the Telegraph reports that “is actually only a very low level of what could happen if lockdown is lifted without any means to suppress a second, far more deadly wave.”
The public’s response to lockdown and social distancing measures “has been excellent at keeping the virus under control” and resulting in a “noticeable downturn in cases in the past week”, but it also means far fewer people have built up immunity to the disease.
No herd immunity and risk of second peak
The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) believe around only 5% of the UK’s population has been infected with coronavirus, and Sage committee member Prof Neil Ferguson said: “There is almost no herd immunity and a very large risk of a second peak if we relax current measures without something to put in their place.”
The risks of ending the lockdown too soon have been highlighted by the university of Buckingham’s dean of medicine, Karol Skiora, who said: “We’re nowhere near herd immunity…We could definitely have a second peak. You look at countries like Austria where they have opened their garden centres and small shops a week ago and they seem to have more cases again, so it is a real worry.”
‘Northern Ireland could end lockdown earlier’ – Foster
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s first minister Arleen Foster has suggested the lockdown there could be lifted earlier than in other parts of the UK.
During an interview with radio station Cool FM, Foster said “different parts” of the UK could “move in a different time to other parts because it will be criteria led”.
Foster said: “We will have to look at the amount of admissions to hospital, the admissions to intensive care units, the number of deaths that we have, what it means for us in terms of the science – of course we get advice from a scientific advisory group in London but we also have our own advisory group here in Northern Ireland and our own chief medical officer.”
‘Goal is to test, track and trace everybody that needs it’ – Hancock
Labour leader Keir Starmer has repeatedly called on the government to publish its exit strategy. Yesterday, the health secretary Matt Hancock told MPs: “We are at the peak. But before we relax any social distancing rules or make changes to them we have set out the five tests that have to be met.”
Hancock said “Our goal is to get to a point where we can test, track and trace everybody that needs it.”
Today the government announced a scheme to test 300,000 people in the next 12 months as part of study to monitor immunity levels among the UK’s population and track the spread of the infection. However, the test for antibodies required by the study does not exist, with scientists still working to develop one.