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Sturgeon refuses to rule out Scotland screening visitors from England

Nicola Sturgeon has said she cannot rule out introducing quarantining or screening for travellers coming from England if infection rates rise south of the border.

The first minister said her government intended to eliminate coronavirus from Scotland after disclosing there had been no deaths in Scottish hospitals from confirmed Covid-19 for four days, with only 10 people now in intensive care.

Sturgeon said securing its elimination needed “hard-headed” public health policies, suggesting several times in her daily briefing on Monday she believed Scotland’s strategies were more effective than in other parts of the UK.

She said she had no plans at present for any special measures for people travelling from England but pointed at decisions by US states such as New York and New Jersey to quarantine travellers from US hotspots, and localised quarantine measures in Germany.

Prof Devi Sridhar, a public health specialist who advises Sturgeon’s government on its coronarivus strategies, suggested on Sunday travellers arriving from England could need to be screened, tested or asked to self-isolate if infection rates rose there.

“I said I’ve no plans to introduce anything like this just now but I’m not ruling anything out, if it’s required from a public health perspective,” Sturgeon told reporters on Monday, but did not directly answer a question on what measures could be involved.

There had been a surge of case in Leicester, she said, adding to her “deep sense of anxiety” that people may be dropping their guard too soon.

“We haven’t come this far over the last three months surely simply to allow our infection rates to start having to spiral again, so we’re going to have to be really hard-headed from a public health perspective here.”

Sturgeon accused No 10 of failing to discuss its plans with her government about creating “air bridges” to allow travellers from selected EU countries to sidestep the 14-day quarantine rules.

Quick guide

Will there be a second wave of coronavirus?

Epidemics of infectious diseases behave in different ways but the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people is regarded as a key example of a pandemic that occurred in multiple waves, with the latter more severe than the first. It has been replicated – albeit more mildly – in subsequent flu pandemics.

How and why multiple-wave outbreaks occur, and how subsequent waves of infection can be prevented, has become a staple of epidemiological modelling studies and pandemic preparation, which have looked at everything from social behaviour and health policy to vaccination and the buildup of community immunity, also known as herd immunity.

Is there evidence of coronavirus coming back in a second wave?

This is being watched very carefully. Without a vaccine, and with no widespread immunity to the new disease, one alarm is being sounded by the experience of Singapore, which has seen a sudden resurgence in infections despite being lauded for its early handling of the outbreak.

Although Singapore instituted a strong contact tracing system for its general population, the disease re-emerged in cramped dormitory accommodation used by thousands of foreign workers with inadequate hygiene facilities and shared canteens.

Singapore’s experience, although very specific, has demonstrated the ability of the disease to come back strongly in places where people are in close proximity and its ability to exploit any weakness in public health regimes set up to counter it.

In June 2020, Beijing suffered from a new cluster of coronavirus cases which caused authorities to re-implement restrictions that CHina had previously been able to lift.

What are experts worried about?

Conventional wisdom among scientists suggests second waves of resistant infections occur after the capacity for treatment and isolation becomes exhausted. In this case the concern is that the social and political consensus supporting lockdowns is being overtaken by public frustration and the urgent need to reopen economies.

The threat declines when susceptibility of the population to the disease falls below a certain threshold or when widespread vaccination becomes available.

In general terms the ratio of susceptible and immune individuals in a population at the end of one wave determines the potential magnitude of a subsequent wave. The worry right now is that with a vaccine still many months away, and the real rate of infection only being guessed at, populations worldwide remain highly vulnerable to both resurgence and subsequent waves.

Peter Beaumont

Rejecting Downing Street’s claims the UK government had worked closely with the three devolved administrations, Sturgeon said: “We cannot simply be dragged along on decisions we have no knowledge of, that we don’t understand the basis of and might be wrong for our circumstances.”

Sturgeon said she and her advisers were waiting to study the UK government’s data and analysis before deciding whether to copy its air bridges strategy, and urged Johnson to clarify what his government’s strategy was.

“I would really welcome a statement from the prime minister that England’s strategy was about trying to eliminate the virus as well, as opposed to what appears to me to be letting it circulate at higher levels as long as it doesn’t threaten or overwhelm the National Health Service.

“So we have to keep these things under review if we want to keep our levels of infection as low as we can get them; and why do we want to do that? Because the lower we can get them the more normality we can get back to.

“One of the biggest prizes is getting children back to school full-time and if we see infection rates rising over the summer, that will be harder to do.”

Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Conservative leader, said Sturgeon should rule out imposing any controls on travellers crossing the border. “While it may be that localised lockdowns will be needed to deal with individual flare-ups over the months ahead, they should be handled as such,” he said.

“This should not be used as an issue to drive a wedge between Scotland and England.”

Read the original article at The Guardian

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