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Covid test access may have to be extended if cases continue to rise, MSPs told

The Scottish Government has been warned it may have to reconsider access to Covid tests if cases continue to rise (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
The Scottish Government has been warned it may have to reconsider access to Covid tests if cases continue to rise (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The Scottish Government may have to consider reintroducing more coronavirus testing if infection levels continue to rise, an expert has said.

Professor Jill Pell, who was a member of the Scottish Government’s advisory committee on Covid before it was disbanded, stressed the need to be “diligent” as infection numbers increase again.

Figures from Public Health Scotland show Covid cases in Scotland increased by almost a third last week – with 15,541 infections reported in the week to June 19, up 30.5% from the previous week.

With restrictions having been eased, Prof Pell, director of Glasgow University’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, said three of the four “prongs” used to curb the spread of infection have been taken away.

Speaking to MSPs on Holyrood’s Covid-19 Recovery Committee, she said: “We have taken away the non-pharmaceutical interventions – the requirement for social distancing, the mandatory need for facial coverings etc.

“We have also removed access to mass testing, and we have also removed the idea of having a supported shielding list. So we are left solely with vaccination really.”

She said jabs do “reduce transmission, it does reduce severity”, but she noted “nonetheless cases are going up, and in some people those cases will result in adverse outcomes, hospitalisation, death, long Covid, so on, and there is always a threat of new variants”.

She added: “I think we do need to remain diligent and particularly think about whether we need to reconsider access to testing if the rise in cases justifies it, because it is very difficult at the moment for people, even if they want to be good citizens, to identify if they have infection and take action.

“We do need to watch the situation closely and be willing to respond to it.”

Her comments came after the Scottish Government ended free Covid testing for most people, with it now only available to specific groups such as carers, health workers and those visiting hospitals and care homes.

Meanwhile, Dr Sally Witcher, an independent consultant in disability equality, appealed for the Scottish Government to exercise some “Covid sense” in the face of rising cases.

Dr Witcher, the former head of the Scottish Commission on Social Security, stressed she was giving evidence in a personal capacity, as she told how she had been classed as being amongst those at highest risk from Covid.

“I have been basically in my house for two-and-a-half years without any prospect of leaving in the foreseeable future,” she said.

She went on to appeal to the Government to “exercise some Covid sense” and “follow the science about where we are”.

With virus numbers increasing again despite “the narrative that we are in recovery, it is over, it is back to normal”, Dr Witcher said it is now “crunch time”.

She added: “If the Scottish Government doesn’t get the policy right, then we are looking at a very serious situation.”

She later told MSPs how she fears people who are more at risk from the virus “have to isolate” because “for people who are infected there is no restrictions on them going out”.

She added: “It is us who are the odd ones out here, it is us who are the outcasts.”

She told how this group feel “abandoned” and “left behind” while watching others “move on”.

Dr Witcher said: “The gap between where we are positioned and that of everybody else has become exacerbated.

“As soon as you start pointing out there is a problem here for people who are at high clinical risk and this isn’t working, you do risk attracting quite a lot of abuse and hostility, which underlines you have no place in this society any more.

“This new normal doesn’t accommodate you any more, you are not part of it, you are irritating outliers.”

She insisted those at higher risk are still “equal citizens”, saying: “We have equal rights.”

She added that portraying herself and others as “vulnerable” makes them seem “needy”, saying: “We’re only like that because protections have been removed.”