The First Minister has defended the work of contact tracers following criticism over a lack of staff to deal with the outbreak.
Nicola Sturgeon said the team was “firefighting” against a rise in cases as she confirmed the number of people associated with the cluster linked with the Hawthorn Bar in Aberdeen had risen from 54 cases to 79 overnight, with a further 30 cases under investigation.
The Scottish Government is actively considering its current guidance on hospitality venues, including “risk factors” such as bar hopping, with the First Minister stating that, in the case of Aberdeen, it appears to have been an “issue”.
She added that the government was “looking closely” at whether there is a case for extending restrictions to areas of Aberdeenshire, given the “very close integral links” between the neighbouring council areas.
The city’s residents were also warned that they should not be going on holiday to other parts of Scotland or the UK nor overseas, as advised in general guidance for the public.
It was also confirmed during Thursday’s briefing that a total of 233 close contacts have been identified so far.
The Scottish Conservatives have called on the First Minister to give NHS Grampian “everything it takes” to suppress community infection in the north-east, after claims only eight staff of Scotland’s 575 call handlers were seconded to chase infection reports in the wake of the incident.
Conservative MSP Alexander Burnett, who represents Aberdeenshire West, was told by health chiefs they were only given eight extra staff to help trace contacts.
Responding to a question at the briefing, the First Minister said the Scottish Government is in “close dialogue” with the health board and will “continue to support them through advice and additional resource that they need”.
She added: “This work is of absolute paramount importance, therefore they will have the support they need.
“What I do know from the information I have is that they are doing a very good and very effective job in terms of the contacts that are being traced.
“We will have an ongoing dialogue, in this case with NHS Grampian, but with any local authority that might be facing outbreaks in future.”
It comes as latest figures show that, in the last 24 hours, a total of 39 cases was recorded in the NHS Grampian area.
However, the First Minister said it is “not clear” how many were connected to the ongoing outbreak.
The health board initially trained 180 contact tracers but when not needed, many of these staff returned to full-time roles which left a team of eight.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said NHS Grampian has its own in-house contact tacing staff and is “rapidly training more” to support with increased demand.
She added: “An additional 16 staff and other support is being provided from the National Contact Tracing Centre and given the rising number of cases, work is underway with respect to board to board mutual aid as we would expect.”
Mr Burnett said: “I was shocked to be told only a tiny portion of Scotland’s contact tracers were sent to help firefight an emergency.
“This is a case of massive under-resourcing for a major incident by Nicola Sturgeon and she must follow through on promises to give NHS Grampian everything it takes to stop community infection.
“This is a critical moment in stopping the virus from spreading.”
I would ask people to be understanding of the complex and fast-moving nature of the situations the local public health teams are dealing with when they face an outbreak like this.”
On the list of almost 30 establishments linked to the outbreak, including pubs and restaurants in the city, a hotel in Aberdeenshire and a number of golf courses, the First Minister added: “It’s important to be clear here: what we mean is not that one particular person in this cluster has visited all of these premises.
“It’s that someone who has tested positive has been in each of these locations but it will be different people in each of these locations.
“I would ask people to be understanding of the complex and fast-moving nature of the situations the local public health teams are dealing with when they face an outbreak like this.”
Ms Sturgeon added that matters were “complicated” by social media, which means that while a local outbreak team may find there is no need to name a premises from a public health perspective, that does not mean a premises is not named elsewhere by either the venue itself or by others online.
For those members of the public who have visited venues on the list and may be left wondering why they have not been actively contact traced, the First Minister said they “may not have been there at the same time or they may not be classified as a close contact” based on the distance between themselves and the positive case.
The First Minister said: “It’s a very complex process but it is led by people who do know what they’re doing.
“That said, we will of course learn from every outbreak we face to try to try to see whether the lessons of it say if anything about the approach should be modified in the future.”
Those who fall into this category were asked to remain “extra vigilant” for any symptoms they may experience.
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