Encouraging evidence that Scotland’s vaccination programme is already starting to cut deaths should prompt an earlier end to lockdown, one of Nicola Sturgeon’s advisers has said.
The Daily Telegraph is reporting comments from Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, saying that numbers from the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are “looking really good”.
Prof Woolhouse, who sits on the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 advisory group, told a House of Commons select committee: “If you’re driven by the data and not by dates, right now, you should be looking at earlier unlocking.”
He is quoted as saying the “whole sequence” that Ms Sturgeon was planning to use to ease restrictions could be accelerated because of the “very positive” data.
Prof Woolhouse also told MPs that children under 16 could return to classrooms in the “reasonably near future” without triggering a large increase in the “R” rate.
He also warned the “value of a lockdown goes down with time”, with half the public health benefit of a six-month lockdown being felt in the first fortnight.
If you’re driven by the data and not by dates, right now, you should be looking at earlier unlocking.
Professor Mark Woolhouse
Speaking to Good Morning Scotland today, national clinical director Jason Leitch said the Scottish Government had “deliberately” avoided giving specific dates for ending lockdown.
He said: “I thought Mark’s evidence was good, the only challenge there is earlier than what? We haven’t actually given dates and we’ve done that deliberately because we just aren’t sure about vaccine progress and vaccine remission reduction.
“If that goes well, if care home data is re-produced in the next few weeks, then yes, we will be able to advise that unlocking can happen at this gradual rate.
“Remember though, that when you unlock something, you don’t know what it’s done for three weeks.
“You can’t tell, it’s impossible. That’s why this first phase of schools needs to happen and then we wait three weeks and see what happens next.”
Scotland’s roadmap out of lockdown to be set out next week
A new roadmap out of lockdown will be published next week but restrictions will remain in place across Scotland until at least early March “and possibly for a period beyond that”, Nicola Sturgeon said on Tuesday.
The first minister told MSPs her government is working on a “revised strategic framework” to be published next Tuesday that will “set out in much more detail when and how we might gradually emerge from lockdown”.
In a statement to Holyrood, in which she also confirmed Scottish schools will reopen for P1-3 children and secondary pupils who need to carry out practical assignments from Monday, Ms Sturgeon warned a return to normality is still some way off.
She said there had been a significant fall in the number of coronavirus cases reported each day – down to 810 from 2,300 in early January – but with new infections only dropping to the same levels as early December, progress remains “fragile”.
Ms Sturgeon warned against booking Easter holidays as it was “highly unlikely” hotels or self-catering accommodation would be open.