Health boards across Scotland are hiring track and trace staff on 18-month contracts, we can reveal, as leading experts predict waves of Covid rolling on for years.
The contracts, revealed in online job adverts, suggest health chiefs are preparing for the pandemic to continue into 2022 and possibly longer.
There had been hopes that an effective vaccine could be widely available in the first half of next year but the emergency planning would suggest that is far from guaranteed.
Britain is struggling to cope with a second wave of the pandemic after an initial spike in March but one senior UK Government science advisor warns infection cycles could run for years.
At present the most sensible precaution is to assume that we will have infection cycles going on for years
Sir Ian Boyd, professor in biology at the University of St Andrews and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), the group of scientists that has been advising UK Government ministers on coronavirus, said: “I think at present it is not clear how long contact tracing will be needed for but it is possible that it could be a matter of years.
“It depends on when, or if, we find a treatment. At present the most sensible precaution is to assume that we will have infection cycles going on for years ahead.
“Vaccination is only one front along which this disease needs to be tackled. Getting clinical therapies implemented is going to take time too.
“The virus is here for good. What might change is our capacity to cope with it as it gradually becomes endemic, like influenza and other coronaviruses which currently cause the common cold.”
The fears of rolling waves of infection can be revealed as Scotland began two weeks of stricter regulations, with people living in five Central Belt health authorities hit with even tougher restrictions.
Sir Ian said that the two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown could be extended if it hasn’t shown to reduce infection rates, but warned fewer people are now complying with lockdown rules undermining the impact of regulation.
He said: “It is for the government to decide but if there has not been a significant effect after two weeks it is very likely that government would need to consider extending current measures or even tightening them further.
“Lockdown measures are only helpful if people comply with them. There is increasing evidence that people do not comply, so lockdowns are waning in their effectiveness.”
A similarly cautious note was struck by National Clinical Director Jason Leitch, speaking on the BBC, who said he did not expect capacity crowds would be allowed at football stadia by the time of the postponed Euro 2020 tournament, including matches to be played at Hampden Park in Glasgow, next summer.
Professor Leitch said: “I do not think we will be back to complete normality by June 2021.”
Yesterday figures released by the Scottish Government showed there had been 1,009 new Covid cases in the last 24 hours, six more deaths and 34 people in intensive care. Some 6,591 people have tested positive in the week to Saturday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tomorrow give details of stricter regulations to slow the spread of the virus in England.
Under the new restrictions, pubs and restaurants could be closed in parts of northern England and the Midlands – where some of the highest numbers of cases are occurring – while a ban on overnight stays is also being considered.
But civic leaders from northern England yesterday joined together to demand more cash for lockdown areas, with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham warning: “It will level down the north of England and widen the north-south divide.”
Ministers promised to recruit 2,000 contact tracers, but last month Health Secretary Jeane Freeman admitted there were only 874 across the country.
The Scottish Government did not give an up-to-date figure yesterday despite requests, saying: “As the First Minister has said, contact tracing is a key part of how we keep the virus under control. While it is impossible to predict how long the pandemic will last for, it is important to be prepared and have an effective test and protect workforce in place.
“Contact tracing will continue for as long as it is needed.”
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