Covid in Scotland: country entering third wave, says Jason Leitch

The national clinical director warned the Delta variant was ‘spreading quicker than we hoped’ in Scotland as plans to ease Covid restrictions in some parts of the country were paused

Thirteen council areas in Scotland will stay in Level 2 restrictions due to rising case rates (Shutterstock)

Scotland is facing a third wave of coronavirus, the country’s national clinical director has said.

Professor Jason Leitch warned the Delta variant was “spreading quicker than we hoped”, as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon put a pause on plans to ease Covid restrictions in much of the mainland.

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He said more cases of the virus were unavoidable as the country gradually opens up after lockdown.

It comes as a scientific adviser to the UK Government, Professor Ravi Gupta, said there were signs the UK was in the beginning stages of a third wave.

When asked by BBC Radio Scotland’s Drivetime if the country was at the start of a third wave, Prof Leitch replied: “Yes, I think we are.

“The question is how big that third wave is – everybody, every modelling higher education institution… they all said, if you open you will get more cases.

“Now I’m not sure I needed a university to tell me that, I think people in the street would have told me that.

“The question is, whether you control that to a level that doesn’t cause enough severe disease to fill hospitals, and enough severe disease to cause misery and death to families.

“That’s the balance we’re now trying to strike and the advice we’ve given and the decisions the First Minister and the Cabinet have made today.”

Scotland at a ‘delicate and fragile point’

Ms Sturgeon insisted Scotland was still at a “delicate and fragile point” as she announced 13 council areas would stay in Level 2 restrictions due to rising case rates instead of dropping down to Level 1 of the five-tier system.

The First Minister confirmed Glasgow, which had been under the strictest restrictions in Scotland, will see rules relaxed, with the city moving to Level 2 from Saturday (5 June).

On that date, many island communities will move to Level 0 – the lowest level there is under Scotland’s five tier system – while 15 council areas will step down to Level 1.

It had been hoped most of Scotland would be able to move to Level 1, and the First Minister’s announcement means businesses in some areas, such as soft play centres, will not be able to reopen as planned.

Support will be provided for such companies, Ms Sturgeon said, with Finance Secretary Kate Forbes expected to set out more details of this on Wednesday.

‘Vaccines make the outlook positive’

Confirming the changes to MSPs at Holyrood, the First Minister said Scotland was “currently at a delicate and fragile point in what we hope is a transition to a different way of dealing with this virus”.

She said: “We believe that vaccinations are opening the path to a less restrictive way of dealing with Covid – one less driven by case numbers.

“But because not all adults have been fully vaccinated with two doses so far, we are not quite there yet.”

The latest figures show almost three quarters (72%) of adults have had their first vaccine, with less than half (46%) having now received both doses.

As a result Ms Sturgeon said the country was “in a transition phase”, adding that “vaccines make the outlook positive, but the new variant means the road ahead is still potentially bumpy”.

While she said “vaccines are changing the game”, she also stressed that for the moment “caution is necessary”.

But with the number of people vaccinated growing, the First Minister said: “We can still be optimistic, very optimistic, about our chances of much more normality over the summer and beyond.”

Rest of country ‘remains stuck in limbo’

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross welcomed the move to Level 2 for Glasgow – which will allow people to hug each other and visit friends and family in their homes for the first time since August, with pubs and restaurants also now allowed to sell alcohol indoors.

Mr Ross said the announcement would “bring to an end 277 days of our largest city living under some of the toughest restrictions”, but added that for other areas it was a “disappointing setback”.

He said: “Half of the country will move forward while the rest remains stuck in limbo, with no clear idea when the restrictions will ease.

“We understand the need for caution, but we also believe more emphasis needs to be placed on the impact of these restrictions on businesses, on jobs, and on people’s mental and physical health.”

Mr Ross argued ministers should be taking a more localised approach, with “targeted interventions to tackle local outbreaks instead of sweeping measures”.

But Ms Sturgeon told him: “We are taking all of the different factors into account, not least the progress with vaccination.”

She said if the decisions were based purely on public health advice “we would simply have held the whole of the country in the levels they are at right now” – adding the raw figures indicated some areas should have even stricter restrictions imposed.