NICOLA Sturgeon yesterday announced a major update to how Scotland would proceed with tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
Significant restrictions and rules were given dates to be eased, with the Covid passport scheme ending on February 28, and most face mask requirments becoming guidance only on March 21.
The First Minister’s announcement also coincided with the publication of the Scottish Government’s Covid strategic framework.
Ms Sturgeon had previously said the new framework was to help Scotland move to a more calm and less restrictive stage of the pandemic.
The framework sets out three broad levels of future potential threat – low, medium and high, but the FM said that it would only be implemented as a “contingency”.
She said: “The strategic update we are publishing today sets out a clear framework for any decisions we may have to take in future in response to new developments.”
“This is intended as a contingency. We hope, of course, that we never have to use it.
“It is important to stress that any decision about the threat level – and what the appropriate response should be – will be guided by data and evidence. But it is not an exact science – it will also, by necessity, involve judgement.
“That is because the kind of developments we may face in future – principally in the form of new variants – will not be uniform in their potential impact.”
Ms Sturgeon said that Scotland currently sits at a medium threat level as Omicron continues to dissipate, but added that should the trend continue Scotland would appear to be heading towards a low level of risk.
So, what does each threat level mean? Below we explain how a low, medium, or high threat level would impact Scotland.
The FM said:”If a new variant emerged that was more transmissible and more severe [than Omicron], perhaps with the ability to evade vaccine or natural immunity, this would likely be classified as high risk.
“In those circumstances, we might advise people to limit social contacts for a period; and to work from home where possible; and we may introduce some temporary protections for high risk settings.”
In the case of those events happening in Scotland, the Scottish Government have published an illustration of the new strategy and detail the potential restrictions for each level.
For a high threat the measures would be :
- Requirement to work from home where possible
- Proportionate restrictions on certain higher risk settings and activities
- Protective measures in other higher risk settings .
- Guidance to reduce social contacts and increase physical distancing where possible.
- International travel requirements and restrictions may apply in relation to some countries.
- Certification required in a wider range of settings
In the case of an extreme risk extended measure would include the potential closure (or limited opening) of further non-essential settings and services, as well as legal limits on social gatherings and events.
Ms Sturgeon said: “If a new variant was either more transmissible or more severe, but not both – as is the case with Omicron – the initial threat assessment would likely be medium.
“In these circumstances, there may be a legal requirement to wear face coverings in some settings. And we might issue guidance for businesses and service providers on reasonable measures to reduce the spread of COVID on their premises.”
For a medium threat the potential measures would be:
- Testing guidance in place for people when symptomatic or asymptomatic
- Guidance to self isolate when positive in place
- Face coverings required in indoor public places and on public transport
- Guidance on reasonable measures to reduce risk in premises
- Travel measures may apply
- Certification required in a narrow range of settings
For a low risk threat, Ms Sturgeon added: “Lastly, in the absence of a new variant, or if a new variant was neither more transmissible nor more severe – and if vaccines continue to be effective – the threat classification would likely remain low. Obviously, this is the level we hope to reach and stay at on a sustainable basis.
“In these circumstances, there would be no legally imposed protective measures. Instead, we would continue to advise individuals and organisations to adopt sensible public health behaviours.”
For a low risk threat the basic guidance would be:
- High immunity sustained through vaccination programme
- Access to effective treatments in line with clinical advice
- Behaviours and settings adapted to reduce spread (e.g. improved ventilation, appropriate guidance on face coverings)
- Hybrid working when possible and appropriate encouraged
- Effective and responsive local outbreak management
- Targeted testing and surveillance ongoing
- Travel measures may apply (e.g. set by other countries)