Attendees and apologies
Advisory group members
- Prof Linda Bauld (Chair)
- Prof Marion Bain
- Prof Chris Chapman
- Gayle Gorman
- Gaenor Hardy
- Prof Devi Sridhar
- Prof Ian Rivers
- Prof Paul Flowers
- Prof Brigid Daniel
- Prof Julie Fitzpatrick
- Dr Diane Stockton
- Dr Eileen Scott
- Joanna MacDonald, Deputy Chief Social Work Advisor, attended on behalf of Iona Colvin
- Iona Colvin
- Catherine Agnew
- Donna Milne
- Victoria Bruce
- Andrew Drought
- Marianne Emler
- Fiona McDiarmid
- Gary Sutton
- Becky Coop
- Carolyn Younie
- Victoria Ayre
- William Wardrop
- Sam Anson
- Judith Tracey
- Eilidh McCreath
Items and actions
The Chair welcomed members to the meeting and noted apologies.
Minute of meeting on 22 February
The minute was confirmed as an accurate record of the meeting.
Data and Surveillance
The sub-group considered the latest data on the state of the epidemic. Infection rates have increased across most age groups with a particular uptick in the 5 to 11 age group. The latest ONS infection survey results from 27 February show a 6% increase in infection rates across all age groups. Vaccine uptake falls with age – with 83.7% of 16 to 17 year olds in Scotland having received at least one dose and 58.9% receiving 2, 70.4% of 12 to 15 year olds having received at least one dose and 41.8% receiving two. 18.8% of 5 to 11 year olds who are at higher risk from COVID-19 have received their first dose. The estimated R number for Scotland is around one.
Hospitalisations are matching the increase in cases with an increase in the 60+ age group. It is unclear what proportion of these hospitalisations are with COVID-19 or for COVID-19. The latest data suggests that both BA1 and BA2 variants are far less likely to lead to hospitalisation compared to the Delta variant.
Mitigations in schools and ELC
The sub-group considered whether it would be appropriate and proportionate to relax the remaining mitigations in schools and Early Learning Childcare (ELC) settings, and retain a set of routine protective measures which would remain in place for the longer term. In particular the sub-group discussed measures around face coverings, physical distancing and asymptomatic testing.
The sub-group noted the recent increase in reported infection rates. Members also noted that, although vaccination is not as effective against Omicron in terms of asymptomatic infection, the evidence is that vaccinations remain effective against the risk of severe illness, hospitalisation, and death.
In discussion, the following points were made:
- schhools should be prepared to support staff to help ease any anxieties around the move to routine measures in schools and ELC settings
- the current school term is a critical one for those children transitioning from nursery to P1 and from P7 to S1. Relaxing the remaining mitigations in schools at this time will allow for a smoother transition for these children whose early educational experience has been impacted severely by COVID-19
- the importance of clear communication with stakeholders and the wider public around the move to routine measures, particularly the continued importance of getting vaccinations and boosters whenever they are offered. Zero-tolerance of symptoms should remain an important public health measure - staff and pupils should not go to school if they have even mild symptoms. Workplace culture needed to change so that staff felt empowered not to struggle into work when feeling ill
- there should still be a regular environmental cleaning regime in place in schools and ELC settings, although this should remain proportionate to the current context
- many of the current measures in schools and ELC settings, including face coverings, physical distancing and asymptomatic testing, could not be looked at in isolation from wide society
The sub-group noted that, although case rates had increased recently, the evidence still shows that, compared to adults, children and young people have a very low risk of severe COVID-19 related health outcomes, and that those without symptoms (asymptomatic) are also at a relatively low risk of transmitting the virus to adults. Although the Omicron variant has higher transmissibility than previous variants, there is no evidence suggesting that it impacts children and young people disproportionately. Severe health outcomes for all age groups are also far less likely to arise while vaccination rates are high and the current variant is less severe. For these reasons, the sub-group agreed that it would be appropriate at this stage to move to routine measures in schools and ELC settings in a proportionate and responsible manner. This should commence in line with any adjustments made across wider society and the timetable for the revised strategic framework for COVID-19, and all relevant changes should be in place no later than the return to school after the Easter break.
The routine measures that the sub-group advised should remain in place in schools and ELC settings for a longer period are set out below:
- children, young people and staff should stay at home and self-isolate if they:
- have symptoms of COVID-19, whether they feel unwell or not
- have tested positive, even if asymptomatic
- are required to self-isolate for any other reason e.g. travel-related reasons
- are identified as a close contact and are over 18 years and four months and unvaccinated
- good hand hygiene and surface cleaning in ELC and school environments and on dedicated school transport.
- an ongoing focus on the importance of good ventilation and the potential for CO2 monitors to be utilised to ensure good air quality in enclosed spaces, with the goal that all school buildings, including all learning and teaching spaces, and ELC settings should be assessed regularly for ventilation issues with a view to remedial action being taken where required
- the requirements for face coverings for staff and young people in secondary schools, for staff in primary schools, and staff in ELC should be in line with the general guidance for safety in the workplace
- physical distancing will not be required among learners. Staff in all settings should follow the general guidance for safety in the workplace
- requirement to wear face coverings on dedicated school transport in line with the position on public transport
- ongoing need for outbreak management capability, including active surveillance
- assessments on the use of PPE should continue to be undertaken for those who work in close contact with children and young people
- asymptomatic testing for children and young people in secondary schools and for school and ELC staff should be in line with the wider testing transition plan
The sub-group then discussed the evidence available around transmission for symptomatic vs asymptomatic hosts and agreed to explore this issue at the next meeting in more detail.
Action: a proposal will be brought to the next meeting of the sub-group around assessing data on transmission.
Future sub group meetings
Members considered adjusting future sub-group meetings to a monthly timescale instead of fortnightly, with a proposal for the next meeting to take place on the 19 of April. The sub-group endorsed this action.
Action: secretariat to send out revised calendar invites to sub-group members.
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