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Experts warn of Christmas Covid spike and festive rule crackdown

© Ross Parker / SNS GroupThe Last Drop is pictured as pubs in Edinburgh close due to latest coronavirus restrictions.
The Last Drop is pictured as pubs in Edinburgh close due to latest coronavirus restrictions.

Coronavirus cases could spike again at Christmas, forcing the Scottish Government to reimpose restrictions during the festive season, experts warn.

Scientific modelling has shown infection cycles last two to three months and if the hospitality sector fully reopens at the end of October there could be a third peak by the end of December.

Last week National Clinical Director professor Jason Leitch said the current restrictions were “part of the price you are paying” to allow families to gather at Christmas. However, professors Graeme Ackland and Linda Bauld, of Edinburgh University, said it was unclear if current restrictions would stop a Christmas spike.

Professor Ackland said he backed the new two-week restrictions but predicted a third wave would hit at the end of December if they were lifted at the end of the month. “Almost as soon as they lift the restrictions, cases will start to go up again,” he said. “The third spike will be a couple of months after they lift the restrictions. If it’s done at the end of October it will start to build up again by Christmas. What I can’t see happening is a set of restrictions getting cases down to the level they were in August. I don’t think there is the political will any more to do the kind of three-month lockdown needed to do that.”

Public health expert professor Linda Bauld said: “It’s really unpalatable to say it but if things go in the wrong direction again by the Christmas holidays we might expect more restrictions then. I think the Scottish Government will use the opportunity of the Christmas period when the schools are not in session to do that.

Prof Linda Bauld

“Mark Woolhouse (professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University) has done simulation modelling and he correctly predicted when we released the restrictions in the summer we would see a second spike in September/October. It’s a two or three-month cycle so we could see numbers go up again in December.”

Professor Bauld said shutting pubs and restaurants in the Central Belt was the right thing to do because customers can breathe in virus particles hours after an infected person has been there. She said: “You’re not wearing a face covering…so that does make those settings more difficult because, although we don’t know the clearance rate yet, particles can be in the air for up to six hours.”

The Scottish Government said: “Decisions on whether to introduce additional restrictions will continue to be guided by the latest available scientific and clinical evidence. We understand people will naturally be anxious about whether they will be able to visit relatives over the festive period. However, given the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic, it is not possible to predict what restrictions may or may not be required over the Christmas holiday period.”