Professor Hugh Pennington believes Aberdeen residents are “paying the price” because pubs were reopened too soon after the initial coronavirus lockdown.
The prominent Aberdeen University microbiologist described recent local outbreaks in Scottish communities as a “set-back”.
However, he urged the public to be “patient”, and said he remained confident that local transmission in Scotland could be eliminated by Christmas.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon extended the local lockdown in Aberdeen on Wednesday, but signalled that restrictions could be eased next week, following a review on Sunday.
Prof Pennington said the situation in Aberdeen, and other communities affected by coronavirus clusters, may have been exacerbated by the reopening of pubs last month.
Spot on from @StephenFlynnSNP – COVID remains a real and present threat to our health and wellbeing. Scenes like these are dangerous, and could easily result in pubs being closed again – which no one wants. We all have a responsibility here. Please, please everybody #keeptheheid https://t.co/vuDqN9ZJmo
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 3, 2020
Images of large crowds outside city pubs, such as Soul Bar, circulated widely when the Aberdeen outbreak hit the headlines.
Prof Pennington said: “I think, at the end of the day, we might say, ‘did we open pubs too soon?’
“It was okay having the beer gardens, and having very strict controls on the number of people going in and all that kind of stuff. But, you know, the pictures outside Soul Bar, well…
“I think we could say maybe we eased up a bit too soon by opening pubs on any scale, let’s put it like that, and we are paying a price for it.”
Prof Pennington believed that many of the current clusters were linked to the actions of younger people, and that their failure to follow social distancing rules could “prolong the agony”.
“The problem we’ve got in Scotland, I think, has been a young person problem,” he said.
“At the moment it’s not that people are being driven into intensive care, they are not.
“I think there are two patients in intensive care, or something like that, and they’ve probably been in hospital for ages, so they are part of history rather than part of what is happening right now.
“So it’s really getting young people, if they are going to pubs – although clearly not in Aberdeen because they are not open, but anywhere else – they want to be very careful.
“And we need to have good messaging (aimed at) young folk, that they have a social responsibility to follow the rules, because if they don’t and have parties and all the rest of it, it’s just going to prolong the agony.”
Prof Pennington added: “It’s not a moving target. There is nothing new coming out. It’s just that we’re getting a bit more refined in our controls, and we just have to be patient and make sure the young folk, particularly, behave themselves.”