Parts of Scotland could have the toughest Level 4 coronavirus restrictions placed on them next week as “more dramatic action” may be needed to curb the spread of the virus, Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said.
He warned capacity in hospital intensive care units “could be under real strain” because of the virus and other pressures this winter.
Mr Swinney confirmed the Scottish Government is talking to local leaders in both the Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Lanarkshire health board areas about the prospect of moving them from Level 3 to Level 4 – the highest level of restrictions in Scotland’s five-tier system.
Such a move would see non-essential shops forced to shut, with bars, restaurants, gyms, hairdressers and visitor attractions also barred from opening – although schools would stay open.
The next review of restriction levels imposed on the 32 council areas across the Scotland will take place on Tuesday, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon having warned in recent days that Covid-19 cases remain “stubbornly high” in some locations.
Ms Sturgeon has previously vowed that Level 4 will only be imposed “if absolutely necessary as a short, sharp intervention to address extremely high transmission rates”.
But Mr Swinney said such restrictions could have to remain in place for “a reasonable amount of time to enable us to see the effect”.
He added: “The hard issue we have got to look at about some of the Level 3 areas is on the question of whether we think Level 3 restrictions are making enough of an impact, and the numbers are so stubbornly high in some of these areas it is posing the question perhaps these Level 3 restrictions are not doing enough to suppress the virus.
“That is the issue that is being looked at over the weekend. We have to make sure we all taking all necessary measures.
“There is active consideration under way to the appropriate levels that may include consideration of areas going up to Level 4.
“The Government would want to avoid that if we possibly can do, but it is certainly under active consideration given the prevalence of the virus and the fact that we are not seeing levels of the virus coming down as sharply and as firmly as we need.”
He added: “What we have got to be careful about is as we go through the winter, every week that passes will be more challenging in terms of health service capacity, whether that is because of Covid or normal winter flu pressures, or whatever happens.
“We could find ourselves in the situation where cases could be falling but ICU capacity could be congested, with a projection because of high levels of the virus in preceding weeks that that ICU capacity could be under real strain.”
Mr Swinney’s comments came as the latest figures show 56 more coronavirus deaths and 1,357 positive cases were reported in Scotland in the past 24 hours.
Meanwhile, interim deputy chief medical officer Dr Dave Caesar has suggested as many as one in five Scots may not always be following coronavirus guidelines.
He said the “vast majority of people, somewhere around 80% to 85%, are still doing incredibly well in following the guidance”.
But he warned that as the pandemic continues, it is “becoming more difficult for them to keep that really good motivation going”.
Urging people to keep following the rules, Mr Swinney said there are “many, many people, the overwhelming majority within the country, who are really making incredible sacrifices to ensure they comply with the arrangements”.
But he added “there is always room for improvement”.
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