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Coronavirus: British Army to man mobile test units at Scottish care homes

Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman.
Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman.

Mobile units manned by the British Army will begin testing key workers at care homes across Scotland this week, the Health Secretary has announced.

Jeane Freeman said she expected five of the units to be in place before Sunday, while another eight would be up and running in the coming weeks.

The move came after it was revealed only 20% of care workers had actually been tested for Covid-19.

Ms Freeman said significant efforts were being made to ensure care providers understand how to access the system and that care workers know they and their household can be tested if symptomatic.

Speaking to BBC Sunday Politics Scotland, Ms Freeman said: “We anticipate in the coming week we will have five of those and then that will be followed by a further eight.

“We’ll be able to offer that more direct mobile testing facility as well as what is currently under way through our NHS labs.”

The comments came as Health Protection Scotland revealed 1,249 people in all have now died after testing positive for Covid-19.

The true death toll is likely to be higher however as statistics from the National Records of Scotland covering all deaths linked to the virus as of Sunday April 19 was 1,616.

The latest figures stated a total of 1,748 people were in hospital, down 13 in 24 hours, while of those patients 133 were in intensive care, a drop of seven.

To flatten those numbers, the UK was placed into lockdown six weeks ago in a bid to slow the transmission of the illness.

Over the weekend there has been numerous reports of business leaders and senior Tories lobbying Downing Street to begin lifting social distancing restrictions.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon resisted calls to lift restrictions on Sunday however, saying if Westminster went ahead she would consider diverging from “the four nation” approach to coronavirus.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Ms Sturgeon, appearing on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show, said: “If, and it is an if, I’m not saying that we’re likely to get in to this territory, the UK Government took decisions that I thought were premature in terms of coming out of the lockdown then clearly I would want to make sure that Scotland did what I judged was best to protect the population.”

The First Minister went on to say that the Scottish Government would not take a differing approach just “for the sake of it”.

“The virus doesn’t respect border and boundaries and people travel freely across different parts of the UK and that’s why I think it has been important to have as much consistency across the UK as possible and I think that’s still the starting point, but we all have to take decisions that we judge to be right”, she said.

“It’s not political in any way shape or form.”

Mr Marr went on to ask her when he would be able to see his parents, who live outside Dundee.

She replied: “I’m not going to give you a date for that now, Andrew, because it would be irresponsible for me to do so because I do not have the information that gives me the confidence that I can say that with certainty.

“One of the most difficult, if not the most difficult aspect of all of this is that need for grandparents to be separate from their grandkids. My own parents are suffering from that right now and grandparents up and down the country are in the same position.”

Ms Sturgeon also faced criticism at the weekend after reports she had missed six emergency Corba meetings at the beginning of the outbreak.

Boris Johnson was criticised by the SNP last week after it emerged he had missed five of the same meetings.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

“It’s is nothing short of a dereliction of duty”, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said.

“The First Minister needs to explain what she was doing that was so important that she missed all these meetings, or is this merely about status and she won’t go if Boris isn’t there?

“As questions continue about the seeming lack of preparedness for the coronavirus pandemic, the insufficient supply of PPE and the lack of testing, not attending the Cobra meeting seems like poor judgement on the part of the First Minister.”

Asked about Ms Sturgeon failure to attend, Ms Freeman said it was “normal” for the First Minister not to have attended from the outset and said she herself had been present for the Scottish Government.

“We stood up our Scottish Government resilience operation in late January and that was chaired by the First Minister from the very first meeting.

“In the initially stages we were looking at this very much from a health perspective and then of course as the pandemic progressed the wider implications and the wider decisions were taken about how we should address this and deal with it.”