TOP pandemic official Professor Jason Leitch yesterday dismissed a claim by a leading infectious diseases expert that Scotland did not get close to “eliminating” Covid.
The national clinical director said he disagreed with Edinburgh University epidemiologist Professor Mark Woolhouse, who cast major doubt on Nicola Sturgeon’s claims about last summer.
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We told yesterday how at a parly committee on Wednesday, Prof Woolhouse – a Scottish Government adviser – warned the First Minister’s New Zealand-style ‘Zero Covid’ strategy is not realistic.
And he said that lower testing levels in June and July compared to August meant cases among young adults simply weren’t being picked up, but modelling suggested they “never fell below 500 cases”.
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At yesterday’s Covid briefing, Prof Leitch said “I disagree with Mark – you may not be surprised to hear that – but that’s healthy. That’s a good thing in the scientific advisory community.
“Some of the other members of our advisory group also disagree with Mark, again – healthy, that’s good.
“We rarely play those scientific debates out live at parliamentary committees and live on TV and that’s the nature of the pandemic.”
Prof Leitch said there were two positives recorded on July 12 across Scotland despite the fact “we were testing a lot”.
He also said there were just nine hospital admissions in the week of 18 July, and no intensive care admissions from June 18 to July 7.
Prof Leitch added “During the period from July 17 to August 30, a six week period, we imported a whole load of new strains.
“We know that from the genomic testing study that we’ve published – 61 per cent of those import events were from England, 28 per cent were from Europe, and nine per cent were from Asia.
“Of course, we also shared the virus we had with others. It’s not a one way street”
Prof Woolhouse said on Tuesday the low record levels were because the virus was “circulating particularly in young adult groups that don’t show many symptoms”.
He added: “As soon as the testing capacity increased in August, there was a dramatic increase in the number of cases we were detecting in those same groups.”
The expert also rubbished the idea visitors from England caused virus spread in Scotland over the summer, saying only a small per cent of virus strains found in Scotland in the second wave were linked to England, adding: “There were no outbreaks of any significance linked to tourists.”
Last June, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland was “not far away” from eliminating coronavirus, and she has since repeated the suggestion the country had nearly eradicated the virus before new strains were brought in through overseas and cross-border travel.
Citing a lack of testing, Professor Woolhouse told MSPs: “Scotland was not close to elimination at any stage during this epidemic.”
But national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch has now said he does not agree with his colleague, a fact he described as “healthy” at the coronavirus briefing on Friday, and he added other advisers also do not accept Prof Woolhouse’s assertions.
“We rarely play those scientific debates out live at parliamentary committees and live on TV, but that’s the nature of the pandemic,” Prof Leitch said.
While he conceded there was not as much testing being done last summer as there is now, Prof Leitch said there were only nine admissions to hospital in the week of July 18 and no patients were moved to intensive care between June 18 and July 7.
He also said there were no recorded deaths from Covid-19 in Scotland for a month between July 17 and August 18, while prevalence dropped to 1.1 cases per 100,000 Scots compared to 104 this week.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “Every single member of our chief medical officer advisory group and all of those who are actively engaged in the science of this, whether it be epidemiology or public health,… their views and opinions are really important to us and we pay attention to them all.
“However, like any other group of individuals, if you bring them all together they do not necessarily all share the same opinion and reach a consensus view.
“Often what we are trying to do is listening to the individual opinions but the consensus view as well in order to help inform us as we make those necessary judgments.”
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