A “complex and potentially significant” coronavirus cluster linked to a Perthshire food processing plant is likely to lead to a surge of new cases in the coming days and weeks, Nicola Sturgeon has warned.
The 2 Sisters plant in Coupar Angus was closed on Sunday after nine new Covid-19 cases were identified, seven of which involved employees and a further two linked to people in the local community.
It is understood a manager at the factory may have caught the virus from a close relative who is not an employee of the plant.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said she would be “very surprised, albeit pleasantly” if the number did not continue to rise in the coming days.
The outbreak comes amid a number of new cases linked to schools in Perthshire and Dundee, and the first minister said she could not rule out a localised lockdown similar to the one introduced in Aberdeen two weeks ago.
Ms Sturgeon confirmed contact tracing in connection with the cluster was ongoing but the entire workforce of around 900 will now be tested at a mobile unit at the site.
“This is a complex and potentially significant cluster,” she said.
“In addition to the overriding public health concern relating to the outbreak, the closure of the plant potentially, of course, has an economic impact, and we also need to consider possible animal welfare issues as well.”
Ms Sturgeon said animals due to be sent to the plant in the next few days would now need to be kept away, and that the size of the workforce and the nature of the work being done at the plant added to the complexity of the outbreak.
“For all of these reasons, we are monitoring all aspects of this situation very carefully and closely, and we will provide further information in due course as and when it becomes available,” Ms Sturgeon said.
Asked whether a localised lockdown may be necessary to tackle the outbreak, the SNP leader said she was cautious about speculating on future measures but nothing could be ruled out at this stage.
“We don’t rule anything out whenever we’re faced with clusters – if we can’t keep a cluster under control purely through Test and Protect, then additional measures always have to be possible,” she said.
The latest Covid-19 figures show 19,407 people have tested positive for the virus in Scotland, up 49 from the day before.
This includes 16 new cases overnight in the Tayside area, seven in Grampian, 12 in Greater Glasgow and Clyde and six in Lanarkshire – all regions recently affected by localised clusters of the virus.
Ms Sturgeon confirmed 220 cases in the NHS Grampian area had now been linked to the outbreak in Aberdeen pubs, up from 207 on Monday.
There has been a decline in the number of new cases in Aberdeen in recent days, suggesting lockdown restrictions are having an impact. However, Ms Sturgeon warned new cases still remain higher in Grampian than the rest of the country.
“Though I don’t want to alarm anybody, I do want people to take notice – in fact, I need people to take notice,” she said.
“These clusters show us that the virus continues to pose a serious risk.”
Ms Sturgeon said it was too early to say whether restrictions in Aberdeen could be lifted or eased in any way when they are reviewed on Wednesday.
There does appear to be a link with indoor social events.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
The first minister also warned Scotland will “inevitably see more cases which involve school students”, as she stressed there was no evidence to suggest the virus is spreading inside classrooms.
Ms Sturgeon said new cases are thought to be “community clusters with an impact on schools rather than school-based clusters”.
She added: “There does appear to be a link with indoor social events.
“The evidence we have at this stage seems to suggest, perhaps not surprisingly given how infectious we know Covid is, if the virus is present at, say, a house party, everyone attending the house party is at considerable risk of infection.
“We will, I think, inevitably see more cases which involve school students in the weeks and months ahead.”
The first minister pleaded with parents to help schools remain fully open by playing their part in suppressing the virus following reports on Monday of school pupils returning to class after visiting high-risk countries.
She said: “I suspect every parent right now will be feeling huge anxiety about their child being back at school – that’s understandable, but I suspect every parent also really knows how important it is for their children to be back at school and to be having education on a full-time basis.
“If we want to protect that, all of us have to do all of these other things that help us to keep the virus suppressed.
“There are no easy answers in any of this – I so wish that there were and I wish there were easy judgements and simple solutions to all of this.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “This is a hard slog for all of us – for every single person having to follow all of this advice – and it’s unfortunately going to be a hard slog for quite some time yet to come.
“But, increasingly, we have to focus on doing everything we can to keep the virus suppressed for its own sake but also so we can start to ease some of these other harms that lockdown and having children out of school are doing.
“We will succeed or fail in all of this by the collective efforts of all of us.”