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Scottish Government creates own COVID-19 expert group

Scottish Government creates own COVID-19 expert group

Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement as she confirmed the number of deaths from the disease in Scotland has risen to 22 people, with 51 patients in intensive care

The Scottish Government has created its own panel of scientific experts to “supplement” the information given by the UK Government on the outbreak of COVID-19.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement as she confirmed the number of deaths from the disease in Scotland has risen to 22 people, with 51 patients in intensive care and 719 confirmed cases overall.

Sturgeon also said that the government will provide financial support to bus companies, who are reporting a 70 per cent downturn in travellers since the introduction of stricter social distancing rules.

She said that bus companies would be paid by the Scottish Government to meet the income expected based on passenger forecasts for this time of year, amounting to “tens of millions of pounds” in support.

Sturgeon also said that the Scottish Government has signed a joint statement with the Scottish Trade Unions Congress, setting out the “objectives for supporting employees and employers” including on issues like health and safety and pay.

The new Scottish Government COVID-19 Advisory Group will be chaired by Professor Andrew Morris, professor of medicine at the University of Edinburgh and director of Health Data Research UK, and Professor David Crossman, who is Dean of Medicine at the University of St Andrews and Chief Scientific Advisor for Health at the Scottish Government.

Sturgeon said: “At all times the Scottish Government’s approach has been guided by the most up-to-date expert scientific advice, working closely of course with other governments across the UK.

“But as the number of cases increase, it is ever more important that we have the fullest possible understanding of exactly how the virus is spreading in Scotland.

“We need to be certain that the decisions we’re taking are the most  effective ones possible and we need to know whether there are more steps that need to be taken.

“So, for that reason I can confirm today that we are seeking to supplement the advice given by the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies - SAGE as it is known - and we are establishing a new Scottish Government Covid advisory group.”

Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood added: “We are facing an unprecedented situation and it’s crucial we not only follow the latest scientific advice coming from SAGE, but establish what that means here in Scotland on a local level.

“It’s vital that we are well equipped to deal with all possibilities as this outbreak grows globally and this advisory group will play a key role in developing our understanding of the virus and its impact on Scotland.

“We will continue to work closely with the UK Government, Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive as part of a coordinated response to this virus.”

Sturgeon also reiterated the Scottish Government’s position on construction work, saying that building sites “should be closed” unless and until the Scottish Government decides that they can be operated safely.

She said that “bespoke advice” to employers would be published on Wednesday afternoon, but urged bosses to operate on the “precautionary principle” that unless the work their business carries out is directly essential to protecting public health then they should close.

Addressing concerns about NHS capacity and supply chain resilience, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said that the Scottish Government is looking “across the NHS estate” for ways to maximise bed spaces.

She also said that the supply to frontline NHS workers of protective equipment like masks and gloves is currently “working well” at a national level and said that there are “no shortages” of such items.

Freeman did acknowledge, however, that there are some supply chain issues in certain parts of the country.

Asked by journalists to comment on Prince Charles’ diagnoses with Covid-19 while on the Balmoral estate, Sturgeon said: “I send my best wishes to Prince Charles,” but said patient confidentiality prevented her from saying anything further.

But Sturgeon did restate advice against travelling to the north of Scotland, saying: “We want people to behave responsibly, so we don’t want people to see the Highlands and Islands of our country as places where they can try to outrun the virus. That is not possible to do.”

Sturgeon also commented on the mental health effects of self-isolation, recommending a variety of services to parents, young people and the elderly to help cope with loneliness and stress.

She said: “The last couple of weeks have probably brought more uncertainty and anxiety than many of us have ever known in our lifetimes.

“Many people, many of you watching, are feeling anxious about your economic situation, as well as about the virus, and you’re anxious about how such enormous upheaval is going to affect us in the long-run.”

She added: “It will be some time before life returns to normal and therefore it is important that we all continue to look after ourselves, and look out for each other.

“More than ever, we all need to be kind to each other. I can’t praise people across Scotland enough for the way in which the country and communities have rallied round.”

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