Widespread defiance of newly-relaxed lockdown rules over the weekend could lead to a new surge in Covid-19 infections in Scotland, health officials have warned.
Ministers and senior NHS figures have expressed alarm at images of large groups gathering in parks and beaches, as the partial lifting of restrictions coincided with the hottest temperatures of the year.
Many also flocked to beauty spots, with Loch Lomond and East Lothian among the areas that saw an large influx of visitors, despite rules stating people should not travel more than five miles from home for outdoor activities.
Meanwhile, as many enjoyed new freedoms which allowed them to meet members of other households in groups of up to eight outdoors, 120,000 vulnerable Scots face weeks more of indoor confinement, even as those in England were permitted to go outside.
Jeane Freeman, the Health Secretary, said Scotland would not adopt UK Government advice, which allows those “shielding” to go outside once a day from today.
While she expressed sympathy with those ordered to remain inside, she said clarity over when they “can start to lead a less restricted life” would be issued “over the course of the next few weeks”.
Reacting to images of busy parks and beaches, Ms Freeman said she was concerned that people had clearly gathered in groups of more than eight and had not practiced social distancing, while others had held indoor parties.
At Luss, on the banks of Loch Lomond, bed and breakfast owner Alyson Walker said people had arrived “in droves”. She told the Sunday Mail that pensioners had become “prisoners in their own homes” as they feared catching the virus from hordes of visitors. In East Lothian, several cars parked up on grass verges as visitors defied restrictions.
“I know the majority of people are following the rules and the law,” Ms Freeman said. “But we have heard and seen some reports this weekend of more than two households meeting, of house parties taking place and of large gatherings indoors. None of that should be happening.
“If we don’t respect these rules, then the virus will begin to spread again. There has to be some concern where we see groups of people of more than eight who are not socially distanced. They may be socially distanced from another group, but within that group there is no physical distancing there.
“That two metre distance is not a number we dreamt up, it’s not there to make people’s lives difficult, it’s there for a purpose.”
As she announced the easing of restrictions last week, which also included allowing golf courses and garden centres to reopen, Nicola Sturgeon admitted she felt “nervous” about how Scots would react.
Fiona McQueen, the chief nursing officer, said on Sunday that it was “worrying” to see people breaking rules and suggested that newly-announced announced to reintroduce some NHS services, such as cancer screening which have been put on hold, could be delayed if the public did not follow guidelines.
Jason Leitch, the Scottish Government’s national clinical director, said the scenes had left him nervous and anxious over the weekend. He reminded young people, who are at less risk from the virus, that breaking the rules could put others at risk.
Asked whether he feared the rule breaking could lead to a resurgence of Covid-19, he said: “I really hope it doesn’t happen. One of the challenges with this virus is that behaviour today doesn’t give you the virus or symptoms tomorrow. The three week legal review is not coincidental. It takes about a week to show symptoms, about a week to get seriously ill, and about a week to die.
“We will know what the behaviour of this weekend does in about two weeks’ time.”
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon told Sky News that there remained a "significant risk" that coronavirus could "run out of control again".
A new analysis by Jamie Jenkins, a former head of health analysis for the Office for National Statistics, suggested that Scotland’s coronavirus death rate was among the worst in the world. He found an excess death rate of 861 cases per million in Scotland is slightly lower than the UK average, but above the United States and Italy, which have also seen significant outbreaks.
Ian Murray, the Labour MP and Shadow Scottish Secretary, said: “This is a damning verdict on the Scottish Government’s catastrophic handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“A better communications strategy than Boris Johnson does not negate the fact that we have one of the worst excess mortality rates on the planet.”