How do we stop the resurgence of covid-19 in Scotland? Everyone is agreed that it is resurgent, and that we need to stop it, so let’s try to focus on the ‘how’.
Common Weal today publishes a new report by head of policy & research Craig Dalzell which looks at exactly that. It proposes a change in how restrictions are organised, away from a “centralised” model towards a localised “traffic light” system, designed so that there is consistency in the application of restrictions based on virus prevalence, and that those restrictions can be undertaken at the community level, rather than blanket measures across whole local authority zones.
“The aim of this proposal is to create a pandemic response strategy that in the shortest possible time will enable the greatest number of people in Scotland to live as normally as possible for the greatest proportion of the time until a Covid-19 vaccine is developed and successfully deployed,” Dalzell writes.
This system would only be possible through a mass randomised sample testing system so that there was an accurate picture of virus prevalence at the local level. The ONS has been conducting such an approach in England for months, but no similar programme yet exists in Scotland. Dalzell finds that the Scottish Government’s current ‘Test and Protect’ system “remains far too focused on people self-reporting symptoms and asking for a test”.
“Even under this expanded testing regime, many people are not being systematically tested and therefore there almost certainly exists a reservoir of infection amongst the population which is now spreading as Scotland emerges from lockdown,” he argues.
Rather than a call centre focused approach which tends to see limited activity in lull periods and then is overwhelmed when the virus begins to rise exponentially, local contact tracers would be the beating heart of this model, who would also lead community wellbeing work to ensure any local area undergoing restrictions has the support they need, with no vulnerable people left behind. All in all ten “actions” are proposed on schools, border management, compliance and more.
Dalzell argues that this is a system that could make the Scottish Government’s stated aim of covid-19 elimination a realistic possibility, rather than a distant goal that we seem to be moving further away from. Of course, the Scottish Government is likely to be loathed to change its strategy now, but this is a fast moving crisis which requires humility and an open-mind to learn as we go. If the strategy isn’t reaching the goal, the government should change the strategy rather than move the goal posts.
The latest news of a “pause” at Oxford University and Astra Zeneca’s clinical vaccine trials after a participant fell ill serves as a reminder that no magic wand is around the corner. If we cannot stop the resurgence of covid-19, Scotland is in for a bad winter. There should be a vigorous and open debate about the best way to do that.
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