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Public health officials ‘concerned, but not panicking’ over Covid spike

About one in 20 people in Scotland had Covid-19 last week (Jane Barlow/PA)
About one in 20 people in Scotland had Covid-19 last week (Jane Barlow/PA)

A recent spike in Covid-19 cases has left public health officials “concerned, but not panicking”, MSPs have been told.

Holyrood’s Covid-19 Recovery Committee took evidence from a panel of experts on Thursday morning after reports suggested about one in 20 people in Scotland had the virus last week.

National clinical director Professor Jason Leitch told the committee that the spike was not unexpected, and said the public should consider making use of previous preventative measures such as wearing face coverings and staying at home from work or education if they feel unwell.

Prof Leitch said: “Our advice remains pretty much the same, but you can tell our tone has changed in the last few weeks.

“It’s about staying off if you’re sick, whether that’s college or work or school, certainly reintroducing or thinking about face coverings, handwashing, surfaces – all of those anti-viral things – and, of course, the key intervention remains vaccination.

“If you haven’t come, or you’re due a booster, if you think you’ve missed one, we want to see you.

“Those are the key interventions. We’re concerned, but not panicking.”

Convener Siobhian Brown inquired about misinformation and disinformation arising from the pandemic.

FACTS campaign on a screen
The Scottish Government launched its Facts campaign to issue guidance to the public during the pandemic (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Misinformation, in this instance, was defined as incorrect information being spread inadvertently, while disinformation was described as false information being passed on in a deliberate manner.

Professor Linda Bauld, chief social policy adviser for the Scottish Government, said it is “absolutely essential” that false information is dealt with.

She said addressing misinformation had been carried out “phenomenally well” in Scotland, highlighting specialist groups who tackle inaccurate information on the Covid-19 vaccine, in addition to a network of people who take it upon themselves to respond to queries on the pandemic.

Prof Bauld said: “I wouldn’t jump to say Government should fund a new [misinformation] body, I would ask, what are the gaps and what is the best model for Scotland?”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser raised questions over the effectiveness of the Scottish Government’s Facts campaign, which sought to issue guidance on steps the public could take to try and avoid catching and spreading Covid-19.

“I know Jason Leitch will know what Facts stands for, but I don’t know many other people who do,” Mr Fraser said.

Public health minister Maree Todd said that while people may not be able to recite the specific phrases the acronym stood for, they understood it was a call to action and the overall guidance it was providing.

She said: “We see even now, two-and-a-half years into the pandemic, people really do know and understand the non-pharmaceutical interventions which that particular piece of information was about.”

Prof Leitch added that the campaign was evaluated, with 83% of people reporting that Facts “changed their behaviour”.

He said that there had been consideration towards changing the campaign after the UK Government launched its own “Hands, Face, Space” campaign, but said marketing experts had ruled it as counter-productive.

“There were judgements to make in there about the timing of which marketing intervention you used,” Prof Leitch said.

“Fundamentally, they all pushed the population in the same direction.”

Facts stands for Face coverings, Avoid crowded places, Clean your hands regularly, Two-metre distance, Self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms.

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