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Big question mark over large-scale events during coronavirus outbreak: Sturgeon

Scotland’s First Minister said banning such gatherings would do little to reduce the spread of Covid-19, but would free up key resources.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the health service will be under pressure as the country tackles coronavirus (Nicola Sturgeon/PA)

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the health service will be under pressure as the country tackles coronavirus (Nicola Sturgeon/PA)

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the health service will be under pressure as the country tackles coronavirus (Nicola Sturgeon/PA)

There is a “big question mark” over whether large-scale events such as football matches should go ahead as Scotland tackles the coronavirus outbreak, the First Minister has said.

Nicola Sturgeon said she believes the time has come to move into the delay phase for battling the virus, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson set to sign off on such plans during an emergency Government meeting on Thursday.

Ms Sturgeon warned it is highly likely “significant numbers” of people will get the virus, with 36 cases confirmed in Scotland so far and the first case of community transmission north of the border reported on Wednesday.

She said that while cancelling mass gatherings does not have a significant impact on reducing the spread of the virus, such events tie up resources which could be used elsewhere.

She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Mass gatherings, football matches for example, they need to be policed, they need to have emergency medical ambulance cover.

“We are going into a period where our emergency services, our NHS in particular, will be under significant challenge and significant pressure, we may see all of our workforces affected by high absentee rates because of sickness so there’s a wider issue here about whether cancelling those kind of events is the right thing to do to reduce pressure on our front-line emergency workers.

“From a wider resilience point of view, then I think there is a big question mark over whether large-scale events like that, whether it is sensible to allow them to proceed at the moment.

“We’re looking very carefully right now at whether large-scale events, whether it would be right and sensible given the situation we are facing right now to allow them to go ahead.”

Asked at what point the Scottish Government would consider closing schools, she said that could come if experts advise it would be a beneficial thing to do.

She said school closures are not currently being recommended but the situation is being kept under review, and decisions will be taken based on the best scientific advice.

Ms Sturgeon said: “This is a serious situation. We cannot make this virus go away. It is highly likely now that significant numbers of us are going to get this virus.

“The vast majority will have very mild illness and the clear focus right now is on doing everything we can to protect those who are more susceptible to serious illness, but we cannot make this go away, we need to focus on how we manage this outbreak, delay the spread and reduce the numbers infected at any one time.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme there is “no doubt we are not going to be able to contain it for very much longer” and that efforts will now focus on delaying the spread of the virus to “put less pressure on the NHS”.

He said: “The advice to date has been rather similar to if you have flu, if you have flu symptoms don’t go to work. The advice going forward will be more along the lines of if you have a temperature with a cold – and I emphasise you have to have a temperature – not to go to work.

“If you are elderly please keep yourself as contained as you possibly can, or if you have underlying, pre-existing health conditions, particularly lung conditions, because what we are trying to do is take the pressure off the NHS and protect people’s lives.”

Mr Jack said he hopes the steps the UK is taking will prevent the need for “more extreme measures”.

PA