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Coronavirus: Details on test, trace, isolate still to be released, admits First Minister

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Key details of the Scottish Government’s test, trace and isolate plans “vital” to the next phase of lockdown restrictions being rolled out will not be revealed until days before the review takes place.

When asked on Monday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman were unable to say whether test centres would be expanded and if non-clinical staff would be trained to conduct test swabbing for Covid-19.

Ms Freeman promised testing centres would be as “close to your home as possible” but did not say when additional sites would be opened.

A Pitlochry coronavirus testing centre.

Test, trace, isolate, (TTI) or the Test and Protect response to the virus will be a tentpole measure in the Scottish Government’s route map for handling the disease in future, which was announced last Thursday.

The first minister also admitted there was a “genuine danger” coronavirus could spread again as lockdown is relaxed.

Phase one of the lockdown guidelines being loosened could be introduced this coming Thursday.

What is test, trace, isolate?

Test, trace, isolate (TTI) is a public health measure being introduced by the Scottish Government to halt the spread of coronavirus and is defined by the following:

  • Identifying cases
  • Tracing the people who may have become infected by spending time in close contact with them
  • Supporting those close contacts to self-isolate, so that if they have the disease they are less likely to transmit it to others

All symptomatic people to be tested

People who believe they have symptoms of the virus will be able to test, either at home or at a testing centre.

Currently, only priority workers like doctors, nurses and latterly care home workers  have been routinely tested at centres, some of which have been operated by the military.

When asked how non-health professionals would be trained in how to take a correct swab and what plans there were to expand testing centres, Ms Sturgeon said: “The testing that will be done will be through a range of different routes.

“It will be through the drive-through, using mobile testing and our NHS testing capacity – not the processing lab capacity but the capacity to actually take the tests.

“There will be a role which may increase over time for home testing, although that will remain a relatively small part of our capacity right now.

“We will want to provide this as locally as possible for people, but also make sure it is as rapid as possible.

“We will set out more details of this over the course of the week, as we will set out details for what the public should do if they are symptomatic and coming forward for testing.”

Health Secretary Ms Freeman added: “On the point of where people would get testing, we are very conscious we need to make this because it will be such a central part of everything we are doing for many months to come.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman MSP.

“We are very conscious we need to make getting the test as straightforward as possible, particularly because individuals will be getting the test because they have symptoms, which may be coronavirus and they may be feeling unwell – some may not feel unwell but have the symptoms nonetheless.

“So we are actively looking at all the ways by which we can ensure getting the test and having the sample taken is as close to your home as it possibly can be.

“Some of the detail will be set out tomorrow (Tuesday) as the first minister has said and we will continue in an iterative way to improve on that as we go through the weeks ahead.”

Tracking down tracers

As well as significantly increasing the number of symptomatic people being tested, the Scottish Government has promised its target of recruiting 2,000 tracers by the end of May will be met – even though Ms Sturgeon said they might “not be needed”.

Tracers will communicate with those who have come into contact with a positive case, once that patient has provided details of who they may have come into contact with.

They will then be asked to isolate for 14 days from when the positive patient’s symptoms started.

Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw accused Ms Sturgeon and the government of “rowing back” on their initial commitment.

He said: “Everyone desperately wants Scotland’s plan to exit lockdown quickly and safely to work.

Jackon Carlaw.

“But it won’t happen unless the testing system is up to scratch.

“There’s no getting away from the fact Nicola Sturgeon said there would 2,000 contact tracers recruited by the end of this month.

“Now she’s rowing back on that pledge significantly, and it sounds like she’s getting her excuses in early for having significantly fewer.

“The SNP’s approach to testing has been botched from the outset, and continued failure on this front will put lives at risk and lead to lockdown lasting longer than is necessary.”

Ms Sturgeon said: “We’re not dropping that target, that’s still what we’re aiming for and are on track to do.

“Contact tracers are there when someone comes forward with symptoms or tests positive, the contact tracers trace those contacts, give advice about isolating and so on, so how many you require is dependent on the number of people who are getting the virus and coming forwards, and our assessment of the prevalence of the virus right now is, we won’t need 2,000 tracers but we may in the future if the virus transmits more rapidly than it does right now.”

She further confirmed tracers from England would not be used.

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