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Aberdeen’s lockdown announcement: What do we know so far?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

The First Minister said her “fears had been realised” in announcing a return to lockdown restrictions for Aberdeen.

Nicola Sturgeon added that the situation should serve as the “biggest wake up call” since the early days of the pandemic.

We take a look in full at the information provided during the First Minister’s daily Covid-19 briefing.

How many people have been affected by the outbreak so far?

Nicola Sturgeon (NS): “When the Aberdeen cluster was originally reported by NHS Grampian at the end of last week, there were four identified cases as part of it.

“Over the past few days a Test and Protect team has been tracing the contacts of those individuals.

“I can confirm that as of now a total of 54 cases have been confirmed as associated with that cluster. A total of 191 close contacts have already been traced, although we expect that number to rise over the course of today.

The Adams and The Hawthorn bar on Holburn Street.

“In the past 24 hours across the whole of Scotland, a total of 64 new cases have been reported. My provisional information is that 36 of these 64 new cases are in Grampian.

“It’s not yet clear how many of these are connected to the outbreak in Aberdeen and let me be clear that some of these may already be counted in that most recent number for the cluster that I’ve just given you.

“But this high number of cases considerably heightens our concern that we are dealing with a significant outbreak in Aberdeen that may involve some community transmission.

“The main link identified in this cluster so far has been the Hawthorn Bar in Aberdeen city centre; however, more detailed analysis by NHS Grampian and Test and Protect shows that this one venue does not account for all the positive cases.

“In total now more than 20 other licensed premises are part of the contact tracing picture.”

What are the restrictions? 

NS: “Our travel guidance for Aberdeen today is: you should no longer travel more than five miles for leisure or recreational purposes.

“You may continue to travel for work or education but we advise against other travel. We’re also advising people who are not in Aberdeen not to travel to Aberdeen. If you’re already in Aberdeen visiting family or on holiday, you can stay but, please, follow all of the guidance while you’re there and take extra precautions.

“Secondly, from today, people in Aberdeen should not go into each other’s houses. Extended household groups can continue but, remember, these are situations that should only involve one other adult who is living on their own.

“We will be introducing regulations requiring all indoor and outdoor hospitality in the city to close by 5pm today. That includes, all bars, restaurants, cafes and pubs. Hotel restaurants can remain open to provide food for residents only and takeaway services can continue.

“These regulations and associated guidance and advice will be reviewed in seven days’ time. By which time I hope we will be in a better position to judge the scale and the trajectory of this outbreak and at that point these restrictions can be removed; we will remove them either in entirety or in part.

“If it is considered necessary, we may extend them beyond the initial seven-day period.”

Given the sharp rise in cases today, and some bars in Aberdeen are hearing of cases related to them but having no contact with health officials, have tracing efforts and enforcement kept up with the spread here and could you envisage further restrictions coming in in the future?  

NS: “Test and Protect is doing a very good job and they will make judgements about whether people need to be contacted because they are close contacts or not and we have to trust our experts to make those judgements or not.

“The other purpose of Test and Protect is to give us early information about the potential sources of, and patterns of, spread. It’s because of Test and Protect that we know that there are more than 20 licensed premises that may not have had cases but where people have been identified as contacts may have been.

Soul Bar claims it proactively contacted the NHS to inform it a positive case had been in the bar.

“This is complex but I know the work being done locally is being done extremely well and this will be an ongoing situation for quite some time.

“I’m not going to speculate about any further measures but suffice to say none of this is easy, none of this is action we want to be taking but if we judge, based on all the data, analysis and work that local teams are doing, that measures are necessary to keep this virus under control and protect the ability of children to get back to school, we will not hesitate to take those actions.”

Are you confident that you will know enough in seven days’ time to see if the measures taken today will make a difference then? 

NS: “No, I can’t be absolutely confident of that right now. That’s why I’ve said openly we will review them in seven days’ time.

“It may be that, in seven days’ time, we have greater confidence that the Test and Protect effort has contained it but we may not have that greater confidence, maybe because we need time to assess that or we may have evidence to show it has spread further.

“I can’t, unfortunately, look forward to seven days and predict with certainty what I’ll be standing here then reporting to you.

“We have very deliberately here taken a very precautionary approach because I want, if we can, to stamp on this outbreak before it spreads further in Aberdeen and perhaps gets out of Aberdeen and spreads more widely in the country.”

You mentioned businesses can re-furlough staff. Is the Scottish Government looking at any additional financial support for those businesses that will be closing?  

NS: “The point about the ability for businesses to re-furlough staff is the key point, in the first instance, to make sure businesses are aware of.

“Clearly the Scottish Government will be looking at whether or not there are additional measures we can take and additional support we can provide.

“Not surprisingly, and entirely legitimately, it was a point raised by Aberdeen City Council at the resilience meeting this morning so we will be having further discussions around that.

“We will be raising these issues with the UK Government because all four nations of the UK will be facing these situations and the furlough scheme, although it has been reined in a little bit now, in current UK Government plans that will not be the case so we need to continue to have this discussion on an ongoing basis.”

On the point of review and perhaps how long these restrictions will be in place, what measurements will you be looking at? Is it the number of cases? Is it tracing all the contacts affected here?

NS: “It will be a mixture of all these things but, from my lay person’s point of view, my worry is, I chaired a meeting with NHS Grampian leads at 5pm last night.

“My worry then, which was compounded when I had the meeting yesterday morning, is the rapid rise in the number of cases being identified right now.

The Old School House closes its doors.

“Contacts are being identified and traced and we’re at almost 200 contacts that have been traced already but there is not yet any certainty that we don’t have wider community transmission and that’s the reason for caution.

“I hope in a few days from now we will have a much greater sense of where these cases have come from, what their links are and that there’s no greater community transmission but when you’ve got, in a contact tracing exercise, more than 20 licensed premises, then the real risk of this spreading out from a very contained outbreak is very real and that’s why we’ve got to take decisive action.”

Lots of people who will have been in Aberdeen during the lockdown will have travelled in from Aberdeenshire. What would you say to people who have been in the city and live in Aberdeenshire and may be asymptomatic? And what advice would you give to bars and restaurants on the border who may be worried about the risk of these people arriving in their premises and it potentially spreading?

NS: “The obvious linkages and intertwining of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire was one of the issues we discussed this morning.

“Right now the restrictions that we are announcing apply to Aberdeen city but there will be ongoing analysis of the Test and Protect data to find out if it may be necessary to introduce restrictions in some parts of Aberdeenshire. But we will only do that if we deem it necessary and we have not taken that decision yet.

“Our advice to anyone who has been in Aberdeen, particularly in the night-time economy, if you’ve had a night out, be extra vigilant.

“For businesses in Aberdeenshire, in particular pubs and restaurants, be really rigorous in the application of the safety measures that the guidance says you will be complying with. That’s, absolutely, cleaning, staff wearing the appropriate protective equipment and taking the details of people who come in.”

In terms of how the virus spread, has the incident management team identified any particular activities that might have caused this or any particular event, perhaps certain guidelines that weren’t being followed? 

NS: “The work of the incident management team is ongoing so I don’t want to get ahead of where they are but they certainly don’t have a complete picture of how the virus is transmitting.

“In fact, that’s one of the reasons why we’re acting in the way we are because there isn’t as clear a picture of how it spread from one person to another as we would want there to be in an outbreak like this.”

Interim chief medical officer Gregor Smith (GS): “The incident management team are looking at this with a great deal of interest to try to understand what the major transmission might be in what is a really complex outbreak.

“At this moment in time, we haven’t clearly been able to elucidate that from the answers they’ve got from people.

“What we know in general is there are certain characteristics that make transmission much more viable, the further away you are from someone, the less likely you are to catch it. Two metres is better than one and one metre is better than direct contact.

“We also know that indoor transmission is much more likely than outdoor transmission. Poorly ventilated indoor places that are crowded start to become an environment where the risk of transmission becomes much, much more likely.”

Could you expand on why non-essential retail is being allowed to stay open? Why is going for a meal in a restaurant more dangerous than going into a shop? 

NS: “What we know in Aberdeen so far, and let me caution and caveat this with this is still under investigation, but at the moment, it appears to be it has been the night-time econony, pubs and restaurants which have perhaps been more susceptible here.

“We’re also acting to ensure we minimise the risk of transmission indoors with other households mixing. That is a precautionary approach but we’re trying not to be disproportionate.

“We want people, as far as possible, with those exceptions, to go about their everyday lives.

“In non-essential retail, you must wear masks, of course.”

Is it unrealistic that schools can reopen in the city in a week’s time and when can parents expect a decision on that?

NS: “Aberdeen City Council’s plans for the reopening of schools have already been communicated. We want those to continue as planned.

“Don’t underestimate the factor here in the decisions we’ve taken today, which is protecting the ability of schools to return.

“This is about being more precautionary elsewhere so we can stamp on transmission so children’s return to school is not compromised.

“I’ve said for the past few weeks that getting children back to school is the priority. This is the hard edge of what that means in practice when we face increased transmission.

“If it is a choice between choosing hospitality or choosing schools, we’re choosing schools right now and that is because we know it’s in the interests and well-being of children to get them back into education.”

Are you confident it’s safe for Scotland’s pubs to remain open? 

NS: “We have balances we need to strike.  We need to get our economy going because not having our economy going is doing damage in many different ways to people’s health, their living standards and their ability to pay their bills but none of that will be possible if we can’t keep this virus under control.

“So we have to continue to strike these really difficult balances as well as we can, so we’ve always said we may have to go backwards.”

Could you perhaps have acted sooner? Is there any evidence of this coming in from outside Aberdeen? 

NS: “There’s a lot of examination coming in on the cases in Aberdeen and whether some of the cases have come back from overseas or come back from other parts so that is the work that is under way.

“Inevitably you will undoubtedly have cases with elements like that but does that mean it started it or not? We don’t know yet.

“Should we have acted quicker? I probably for the rest of my time will agonise about the timing of decisions and do we get the balances right.

“We’re trying our best here. The last case in this cluster was identified last Friday.  It’s the last 48 hours that there appears to have been a rapid acceleration so we’ve acted, I think, pretty quickly.”

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