The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Scotland could rise “very rapidly” in the coming days, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned.
Addressing the current situation amid the outbreak of Covid-19, Ms Sturgeon said her Government is still working to delay the spread and reduce the impact on the public and the NHS.
Scottish Government ministers “will not hesitate” in taking measures to protect people from the disease, she said.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said: “I think we all recognise and accept that it looks increasingly unlikely that we are going to be able to contain this outbreak indefinitely.
As of this morning we have six confirmed cases. I would expect that to rise - possibly very rapidly – in the days to comeNicola Sturgeon, First Minister
“So therefore it is likely that we will move into the delay phase of the virus and that may be reasonably soon, but that will be guided by the best scientific advice.”
Describing the situation as “very serious”, she added: “As of this morning we have six confirmed cases. I would expect that to rise – possibly very rapidly – in the days to come.
“I also want to stress that we are still very much in what is called the contain phase of the virus in Scotland.
“If people follow the advice, if we ensure confirmed cases are isolated, that contacts are traced and given appropriate advice, and if the public follow the advice on hand (washing) and other personal hygiene, then we can continue to have a degree of success in stopping the spread from individual to individual, and it is important that we do that for as long as possible.”
Explaining the importance of delaying the spread of the infection, Ms Sturgeon said: “We may not be able to contain the virus indefinitely, but every day we manage that and every week that we manage that, taking a future peak out of the winter period and into spring and summer, then we help to reduce the impact.”
Ms Sturgeon also said she is confident Scotland’s two coronavirus testing facilities in Glasgow and Edinburgh would be able to cope with the rising demand, although discussions are ongoing about opening a further site in Tayside.
The First Minister also confirmed work is under way to identify recently retired NHS staff as part of “contingency plans to encourage and ask those who have recently retired from the National Health Service to come back if that is required”.
Scottish Labour Richard Leonard questioned the First Minister on the impact of the virus.
He stressed that while the “first thoughts of all of us are with those patients” diagnosed with the virus, the Government must tackle bed blocking in the NHS to help hospitals deal with the extra patients.
He said: “The delayed discharge of patients from Scotland’s hospitals has reached record levels.
“In the last 24 hours I have spoken to councillors who are concerned our social care system may not have the necessary resources to enable patients to be discharged on time at present.”
A further three patients have tested positive for coronavirus (#COVIDã¼19) in Scotland, bringing the total number of cases to six.— Scottish Government (@scotgov) March 5, 2020
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Learn more at https://t.co/l7rqArSHI2 pic.twitter.com/wajqh7AnP1
Ms Sturgeon said tackling the problem is a focus for the Government “regardless of coronavirus but particularly so given the challenge we face with coronavirus”.
She said the Scottish Government’s Budget for the coming year includes extra cash for councils and for social care.
Asked about plans that could see the number of NHS laundries serving mainland Scotland cut from eight to four, the First Minister said the final decision would lie with ministers – and the “current and emerging situation with coronavirus will be very much a factor” in this.
She told MSPs: “There will be no plans approved by the Scottish Government that we think in any way puts at risk the steps we have to take to deal with this situation.”
First Minister @NicolaSturgeon met staff supporting Scotland's public information response to coronavirus (COVID-19) at @NHS24's contact centre todayâ¬ï¸https://t.co/oODdPkLXnS pic.twitter.com/tLK8bkoreK— First Minister (@ScotGovFM) March 4, 2020
The First Minister also made clear the Department for Work and Pensions must ensure Universal Credit claimants who have to self-isolate are not sanctioned as a result of following medical advice.
With some workers not eligible for sick pay if they are affected, she said the UK Government should set up immediate hardship grants for people in this situation.
She added: “The Scottish Government is also looking at what we can do to have contingency funding for people in that kind of condition.
“We simply can’t have people feeling they must work against medical advice because the welfare system is not meeting their needs.”