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Test and protect assurance ‘not enough’ as Covid ‘runs rampant’

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Nicola Sturgeon defended the contact tracing system against claims it is struggling under intense strain from the surge of coronavirus in Scotland.

The First Minister said Test and Protect is coping well as she responded to record levels of Covid-19 in recent days, including another 3,823 cases in 24 hours.

Official figures confirmed four more deaths, hospital admissions up to 285 and 19 people in intensive care.

NHS Grampian is imposing new rules on hospital visitors, businesses in Stonehaven are closing because of a cluster of infections and NHS Highland warned there pressure is growing on services.

Dundee has also recorded large numbers of cases in recent days, which officials hope can be turned around soon.

In response, Ms Sturgeon announced:

  • More walk-in vaccination centres will be available from July 5.
  • An extra £380 million is being allocated to health boards to meet additional costs.
  • And the First Minister announced more than 50% of people in Scotland have now been vaccinated against the virus.

Meanwhile Chris Littlejohn, deputy director of public health at NHS Grampian, said the health board’s contact tracers are not currently able to call all contacts due to the volume of cases.

‘Dramatic increase’

He said: “The sheer number of cases we are seeing at present has led to a dramatic increase in the workload of our Test and Protect teams.

“Regrettably, this means we are not currently in position to contact-trace every positive test that comes into the system. We are prioritising those individuals most at risk from Covid-19 for telephone calls, those at lower risk will receive a text message with further guidance.

“If you don’t complete the form, supplied with your positive result, our teams will have to call you. Identifying your own contacts – making sure to include those people you live with – allows our team to concentrate on the more complex cases.”

The new measures were welcomed but opposition politicians at Holyrood warned the response should have come earlier.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said the figures show Scotland is the worst hit in the UK.

“I have to say I don’t think the First Minister provided sufficient reassurance about the operation of test and protect in light of these worrying statistics,” she said.

“We know if we’re going to live with Covid and come out of these restrictions then test and protect needs to work better, but what the Scottish Government and the First Minister have done is actually drop standards.

“They are reducing standards as a way of coping with the recent rise in pressure – but that is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“There is a backlog of thousands of cases and reducing the number of people contacted will lead to the increased spread of the virus. Suspending testing for travellers risks importing new strains of the virus from abroad, particularly as international travel ramps up again.

“The government must give test and protect the resources it needs to deliver its vital role and help keep us all safe.”

With the virus running rampant it’s worrying that it has taken the Scottish Government such a long time to get this up and running. London has had walk-in clinics for several weeks now.

– Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton

Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “Ministers need to focus all of their resources on ensuring that the vaccine programme and our failing Track and Protect scheme are working efficiently.

“We welcome the SNP Government’s decision to finally set up drop-in clinics in each health board on Monday and strongly advise people to get their first or second dose at these clinics if it is faster than waiting for their appointment.

“Vaccinations and an effective Track and Trace programme are both vital to our way out of restrictions and resuming normality.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “With the virus running rampant it’s worrying that it has taken the Scottish Government such a long time to get this up and running. London has had walk-in clinics for several weeks now.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have repeatedly advocated for more walk-in vaccination centres so this is a step in the right direction.

“However, the vaccine rollout is only half the story during this surge. The government remains silent on how it will end the mounting delays in contact tracing. It should never have reached the point of needing to turn off some tracing activities altogether because of a lack of capacity. Ministers need to tell us whether they have any reinforcements available for such a surge or whether they have taken their eye off the ball.”

‘Under pressure but coping well’

Ms Sturgeon announced the latest figures and responses at a televised briefing on Friday afternoon.

Defending the system, she said: “Test and Protect is under pressure but it’s coping well. It’s still meeting the WHO (World Health Organisation) target of 80% of cases dealt with, contact tracing done and in quarantine within 72 hours.

“But the pressure is there, and therefore for all of these reasons we have a collective need to try to stem the rising cases as much as possible.

“So that’s why I’m going to be pretty blunt today that all of us need to play our part in that.

She added: “Information about all of the drop-in centres in your own health board area will be available online so I would encourage you to check this out over the weekend.”

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