200,000 Scots could lose new freedoms within days as Covid cases continue to surge

·5-min read
John Swinney, left, and Nicola Sturgeon will make a decision this week - Pool/Getty Images Europe
John Swinney, left, and Nicola Sturgeon will make a decision this week - Pool/Getty Images Europe

Almost 200,000 Scots face seeing lockdown restrictions reimposed within days after virus cases in two Covid hotspots continued to surge.

John Swinney, the deputy first minister, said an “appropriate response” to rising case numbers in East Renfrewshire and Midlothian would be unveiled this week, increasing the prospect of the areas joining Glasgow in Level 3.

In East Renfrewshire, home to around 95,000 people, the case rate per 100,000 rose to 94.2 on Tuesday, from 86.9, while in Midlothian, where around 92,000 people live, it increased to 57.3 from 55.2. The threshold for entering Level 2 is nominally 50 cases per 100,000 residents.

“I am concerned,” Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said. “Those areas are well, well above the threshold in terms of cases, and probably test positivity as well, for Level 2. 

“If you were just looking at it from a data driven perspective, you would probably say that they do need to be in Level 3.”

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Public health officials are also concerned at a rise in cases in heavily-populated South Lanarkshire, which remains just below the 50 per 100,000 threshold, with rises in west and central Scotland driven by the more transmissible Indian variant. 

Any move back into Level 3 would prove devastating for hospitality businesses in particular, which have only been allowed to serve alcohol indoors since Monday. Hugs and indoor visits to others' homes are among the other freedoms allowed in Level 2 but restricted in higher tiers.

Watch: Sturgeon re-elected as First Minister of Scotland at Holyrood

However, cases have continued to fall in Moray, the only part of Scotland other than Glasgow that is currently Level 3, leaving it with harsher restrictions than council areas with more cases. 

In an attempt to get a grip of the outbreak in Glasgow, it was announced that door-to-door testing will begin while coronavirus tests will be sent to 32,000 homes.

The rate in the country's largest city rose again yesterday to 104.6 cases per 100,000, meaning it is likely the city will remain in Level 3 for at least another week when Nicola Sturgeon announces the results of a review this week.

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Despite mounting concern over Glasgow, residents in Covid hotspots have complained of being unable to book vaccine appointments because they are registered with a GP surgery in a different postcode. 

The local health board has told people living in affected postcodes they are eligible for an early jab, but some are being told that they will need to register with a local GP in order to get one - a process which is particularly difficult because of the pandemic and can take weeks.

One woman, who lives in the Covid-struck G42 postcode but is registered with a practice in G13, said she is "weary of trying to register locally" because it would mean cutting ties with her existing doctor. 

Another person complained of not being able "to get straight information" from NHS helplines on how to resolve the issue, while others claim they have received letters inviting people who no longer live there for vaccine appointments.

Sir John Curtice, the UK’s leading pollster, became the latest figure to speak out over problems arranging vaccine appointments.

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The 67-year-old said he had waited more than 14 weeks for his second dose and that staff manning a helpline had been unable to resolve the issue despite three weeks of calls.

He said: "The problem seems to be that the helpline is unable to solve the problem that it identifies."

Jason Leitch, Scotland’s National Clinical Director, said he was "sorry" Sir John had gone through three weeks of confusion without success, but claimed there was "no difference clinically" between a 12-week and 14-week wait.

He said: "I don't think it's fair to say the helpline is not working. I think it's fair to say there are some people for who the helpline isn't working as quickly as it should and we're trying to correct that as much as we can."

Across Scotland, there were 268 new coronavirus cases announced on Tuesday, although there have been no new deaths in five days. There were 70 people in hospital with recently confirmed Covid-19, up two, with four patients in intensive care, up one.

Speaking at Holyrood, Mr Swinney said: “In the course of the last few days, there has been a significant expansion of the testing programme and capacity within the communities most directly affected by the increase in cases. This has also been supported by an expansion of the vaccination programme

“The First Minister committed to reviewing this situation again at the end of this week. This will include a review of any further areas where concerns emerge, and the formulation of an appropriate response to any such developments.”

Watch: Why life has been ‘extremely challenging’ on the Scottish islands with just 70 COVID cases