First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has stressed it is not possible to let the Omicron variant run freely across Scotland – arguing doing so would “paralyse” workplaces and overwhelm the NHS.
The Scottish Government says the new strain is already spreading rapidly across the country amid projections of a “tsunami” of infections.
During a Covid briefing Nicola Sturgeon warned “difficult decisions” may have to be taken in the coming weeks to control the Omicron spread amid projections daily infections could rise to 25,000 by December 20 in a worst-case scenario.
Daily case numbers already topped 5,000 on Friday for the first time since September.
‘You can’t just let Omicron happen’
Throughout the pandemic the first minister and other world leaders have faced accusations of causing as much harm with restrictions as would happen if coronavirus was allowed to spread freely.
Lockdowns are reported to have caused increased isolation, mental health problems, delayed treatment for health conditions and unemployment.
However, Nicola Sturgeon stressed it was important to “level” with Scotland about the deadly impact the new variant could have if allowed to spread unchecked – adding it was not possible to “magic away” the dilemmas.
It comes after it was confirmed ScotRail cancelled 60 trains on Friday due to staff absences and several staff are isolating at an emergency unit in Lanarkshire after becoming infected at a social event.
Ms Sturgeon said: “If we take the other option of just letting it happen, the key point is that all that harm will happen anyway – it will just happen in a much less managed way.
“Because the sheer weight of infections will overwhelm the NHS and at the very least will mean the NHS will have to stop doing non-Covid work again – so that harm happens.
“It will disable and paralyse work places because people will be off sick, we are already seeing sickness absence in key services already starting to bite.
“When you are faced with something like this, it’s not is there just a way of avoiding all of this impact?
“If there was, believe me, I would be grabbing it with both hands. But there’s not, there’s how do you manage the impact in a way that minimises all of that harm.”
‘We have to tread the tightrope’
National Clinical Director Jason Leitch said advice had been given throughout the pandemic about the impact decisions would have on mental health, the economy and social pressures.
He explained decisions had to be taken by balancing up possible risks – stressing no avenue was able to avoid any harm to the population.
He said: “There’s a whole host of advisors, including economic and social advisors, that feed into this decision makers to try and manoeuvre through this enormously difficult challenge.
“If there was a harm-free path, some country would have found it and we would be very happy to follow it.
“There isn’t a harm-free path, we have to tread the tightrope.”