Scottish public health official raises case for return of face coverings and claims to be 'concerned' over Covid figures

It comes after reports suggested about one in 20 people had the virus in Scotland last week

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A Scottish public health official has raised a case for the return of face coverings and claims to be "concerned" over the latest Covid-19 figures.

Holyrood’s Covid-19 Recovery Committee took evidence from a panel of experts on Thursday morning after reports suggested about one in 20 people in Scotland had the virus last week.

National clinical director professor Jason Leitch told the committee the "spike" in cases was not unexpected, but said the public should consider making use of previous preventative measures such as wearing face coverings and staying at home from work or education if they feel unwell.

Prof Leitch said: “Our advice remains pretty much the same, but you can tell our tone has changed in the last few weeks.

Scotland has experienced a recent spike in Covid-19 cases
Scotland has experienced a recent spike in Covid-19 cases

“It’s about staying off if you’re sick, whether that’s college or work or school, certainly reintroducing or thinking about face coverings, handwashing, surfaces – all of those anti-viral things – and, of course, the key intervention remains vaccination.

“If you haven’t come, or you’re due a booster, if you think you’ve missed one, we want to see you.

“Those are the key interventions. We’re concerned, but not panicking.”

Chair Siobhian Brown inquired about misinformation and disinformation arising from the pandemic.

Professor Linda Bauld, chief social policy adviser for the Scottish Government, said it is “absolutely essential” that false information is dealt with.

She said addressing misinformation had been carried out “phenomenally well” in Scotland, highlighting specialist groups who tackle inaccurate information on the Covid-19 vaccine, in addition to a network of people who take it upon themselves to respond to queries on the pandemic.

National clinical director Professor Jason Leitch said the public should consider making use of previous preventative measures such as wearing face coverings
National clinical director Professor Jason Leitch said the public should consider making use of previous preventative measures such as wearing face coverings

Prof Bauld said: “I wouldn’t jump to say Government should fund a new [misinformation] body, I would ask, what are the gaps and what is the best model for Scotland?”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser raised questions over the effectiveness of the Scottish Government’s Facts campaign, which sought to issue guidance on steps the public could take to try and avoid catching and spreading Covid-19.

“I know Jason Leitch will know what facts stands for, but I don’t know many other people who do,” Mr Fraser said.

Public health minister Maree Todd said that while people may not be able to recite the specific phrases the acronym stood for, they understood it was a call to action and the overall guidance it was providing.

She said: “We see even now, two-and-a-half years into the pandemic, people really do know and understand the non-pharmaceutical interventions which that particular piece of information was about.”

Prof Leitch added that the campaign was evaluated, with 83 percent of people reporting that Facts “changed their behaviour”.

He said that there had been consideration towards changing the campaign after the UK Government launched its own “Hands, Face, Space” campaign, but said marketing experts had ruled it as counter-productive.

“There were judgements to make in there about the timing of which marketing intervention you used,” Prof Leitch said.

“Fundamentally, they all pushed the population in the same direction.”