Scotland’s pubs and restaurants may have to close again if a continued rise in the Covid-19 infection rate puts the reopening of schools at risk, experts say.
The warning came as the sudden increase in infection rates in Scotland, which began on Wednesday with 22 cases, continued yesterday with the confirmation of 18 new cases.
That followed Friday’s announcement of 30 new cases of the virus, the highest figure for eight weeks. In previous days, the number of new cases had been three or four.
That jump prompted Nicola Sturgeon to say people should consider if going to the pub was necessary although it came down to “individual judgment”.
Now leading experts have warned this month’s reopening of schools must go ahead – even if other restrictions must be reimposed to make that possible. The First Minister has already postponed further relaxations to help protect the schedule for reopening schools.
Dr Linda Bauld, professor of public health at Edinburgh University, said: “If we see any cause for concern, I would be in favour of closing places where people are interacting indoors ahead of closing down schools again. We should be prioritising education over other settings. However, I know people in the pub and restaurant business and it has been horrific for them, so it is a difficult situation.
“I would say we are going to have to wait until two weeks until after the schools go back to see where we are.”
Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at St Andrews University, said: “To me, the biggest priority is to be in a position where we can re-open schools as fully as possible. As a society we have priorities and for me, nice though it is to go out and have a drink, it’s more important we have an education than we have a drink. ”
Scottish Government figures show half of the 100-plus people infected in the past week have been in their 20s or 30s, suggesting increased socialising is behind some of the rise.
Scottish Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The return to full-time normalised education will lessen the impact on learning and allow parents to go back to work. If that comes at a cost to the hospitality industry then that can be dealt with via government financial assistance but you can’t replace learning that way.”
No new deaths of people who tested positive were reported yesterday for the 16th day in a row, but three people were in intensive care on Friday with confirmed Covid.
Professor Graham Medley, a member of the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said it was “possible” ministers might have to consider closing pubs in England in order for lessons to start again next month, with a September schools start date pledged by Boris Johnson. Prof Medley said: “The age distribution of infections has changed. It has moved down into younger age groups. The big fear is the virus just gets out of control and we end up in a situation where there is so much virus that it inevitably spills out into all sections of the population.”
The UK Government said that in the 24-hour period up to 9am yesterday, there had been a further 771 lab-confirmed cases.