Scotland’s clinical director warns of ‘public health crisis’ as Omicron spreads

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Scotland is in the “foothills of a massive wave” as Omicron cases continue to rise, the country’s national clinical director has said.

Speaking in an interview on STV News on Friday, Professor Jason Leitch described the current threat of the new Covid variant as “a public health crisis.”

“We have a fourth new variant,” he said.

“It is accelerating and it is doubling faster than any of its predecessors, and it is now more than half of the positive cases in Scotland.

“My job is to give the best advice I can for that public health crisis.

“That doesn’t mean I don’t have empathy and sympathy for business owners and others with those challenges with financial challenges, economic challenges, which are of course also public health challenges.

“I don’t want anybody to lose their business or lose their job, but this virus is coming.

“It is here.”

Jason Leitch
Professor Jason Leitch said the country is in the “foothills of a massive wave” this winter (Saltire Society/PA)

Professor Leitch said while more research needs to be done to understand Omicron, the variant is more transmissible, and he urged people to be cautious.

“We think it’s probably slightly less severe,” he said, but stressed the period between the first case being confirmed in the UK on November 27 and now is not enough time to understand the level of Omicron-related hospital admissions.

“We need more and more cases across Europe until we can answer the question about how many go to hospital,” he added.

“We know with Delta, every thousand people is about 20 to 30 in hospital, and fewer deaths than that.

“But, we don’t know what that number is for Omicron.

“It would have to be so, so low for us not to worry.

“It’s not going to be as low as that because the thousand cases is going to become 5000, and 10,000 with Omicron much faster than it would with Delta, so that’s why you hear the worry in our voices.”

On Friday, new guidance for industry in Scotland came into force to prevent further spread of coronavirus.

Businesses across the country are now legally required to take “reasonable measures” to minimise transmission of the virus.

When asked about whether or not schools should remain open amid rising cases Professor Leitch replied: “Yes, they should.

“School should be the last thing to close and the first thing to open. Schools are so important, not just educationally, but also from a public health perspective.

“They help mental health, they help kids and young people.”

Earlier on Friday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Omicron is now the dominant strain of coronavirus in Scotland, as she warned a “tsunami” of the variant is hitting the country.

Ms Sturgeon said 51.4% of Covid-19 cases in the country are now likely to be Omicron.

The R number, which measures the rate of infection, could be above four and cases of the virus have increased by more than 40% in the past week, the First Minister said during a coronavirus briefing.

She urged people to stay at home in the run-up to Christmas, saying the emergence of Omicron has been the “cruellest of blows”.

“The tsunami I warned about a week ago is now starting to hit us,” she said.

“However, and this is a key point, a really key point actually, we shouldn’t be fatalistic about this.

“We are not powerless in the face of it.”

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