More than 2,000 deaths related to coronavirus could have been prevented if lockdown measures had been introduced earlier in Scotland, according to a study.
A team of scientists at the University of Edinburgh led by Professor Rowland Kao developed a model which simulated the epidemiological behaviour of the Scottish population.
The study, part of a BBC Scotland Disclosure investigation, was based on figures published by the National Records of Scotland last week that a total of 2,795 people have died with a confirmed or suspected case of Covid-19.
Even allowing for some uncertainty the model predicted the death toll would have been around 577 – 80% lower than the total.
While there's quite a bit of uncertainty in what the final outcome will be, all those (projections) are now substantially below what actually happenedProf Rowland Kao
Prof Kao said: “The question we’re addressing here is what would have happened if rather than having lockdown on around 23 March, we’d done it about two weeks earlier.
“While there’s quite a bit of uncertainty in what the final outcome will be, all those (projections) are now substantially below what actually happened.
“What that indicates to you is that these measures could have easily taken effect and reduced those death rates.”
In response, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “At all times, the Scottish Government’s actions have been guided by the best and most up-to-date expert scientific and medical advice, working closely with governments across the UK.
“The virus doesn’t respect borders or boundaries and it makes sense to align our activity as much as possible.
“However, as the First Minister has previously said, the Scottish Government will not hesitate to do things differently if that is in the best interests of tackling the virus here in Scotland.
“Examples of this approach include the announcements on banning mass gatherings and school closures that were made in advance of UK-wide decisions, and recent guidance issued by the Scottish Government on the use of face coverings in enclosed public spaces.”
It comes amid debate over the lifting of lockdown measures with the UK Government unveiling a “stay alert” message while First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has continued to urge Scots to stay at home.
The first case of the virus north of the border was confirmed in Tayside on March 1, with mass gatherings not banned until March 16 and lockdown measures introduced on March 23.
However the findings of the BBC Scotland Disclosure investigation also suggest the virus was brought to Scotland a few days before that first confirmed case.
More than 70 Nike employees from around the world attended a conference at Edinburgh’s Hilton Carlton Hotel on February 26 and 27.
One of the delegates from abroad brought the virus and infected many other employees who then returned to their own countries.
The investigation found at least 25 people linked to this one event are confirmed to have been infected, with eight living in Scotland.
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “Public confidence is essential and that means full transparency.
“We are supporting the national effort against this pandemic. We want our governments to succeed in beating the virus, and this evidence presented tonight suggests lockdown should have taken place earlier.
“Information about a potential coronavirus outbreak in Edinburgh in February should have been made public as soon as the Scottish Government became aware of it.”
Professor Dame Anne Glover, president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and former chief scientific adviser to the Scottish Government, said: “Mistakes have been made and that has resulted in lives being lost.”
The Scottish Government spokesman added: “Health Protection Scotland (HPS), now part of Public Health Scotland, and Scottish Government were alerted by international public health authorities on 2 March 2020 of an individual who had tested positive for Covid-19 following their attendance at a conference for over 70 delegates in Edinburgh at the end of February.
“The conference organisers shared full details of all delegates which allowed the Incident Management Team (IMT) to ensure contact tracing of all attendees. Close contacts of those individuals who tested positive were also contacted in each country.
“Investigation revealed that a total of 25 cases within and outside the UK were confirmed to be linked to the event itself or were close contacts of attendees.
“Eight of these cases were resident in Scotland. All were contact traced and reported in details of the number of cases in Scotland at the time.
“NHS Lothian and Edinburgh City Council worked closely with the conference venue to ensure that all public health issues were addressed including advice for close contacts of delegates and infection prevention and control considerations.”