Coronavirus (COVID-19) Cross Party Covid Recovery Steering Group minutes: 16 December 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Cross Party Covid Recovery Steering Group on 16 December 2021.

Attendees and apologies

Members in attendance

  • John Swinney, MSP, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery (Scottish Government) (Chair)
  • Jackie Baillie, MSP (Scottish Labour)
  • Beatrice Wishart, MSP (Scottish Liberal Democrats)                                                                          
  • Murdo Fraser, MSP (Scottish Conservatives)
  • Ross Greer, MSP (Scottish Greens)

A number of Scottish Government officials also attended the meeting.

Items and actions

Welcome and minutes of the last meeting

The Chair welcomed members to the group's eighth meeting.

Members were invited to contact the Deputy First Minister’s office if they had any comments on the minutes of the previous meeting.

Response to the Omicron variant

Gregor Smith (Chief Medical Officer) provided an overview of the available data in relation to the impact of the new Omicron variant, followed by presentation from Audrey MacDougall (Chief Social Researcher) on the medium term modelling projections. It was noted that Omicron was likely to be much more transmissible than previous COVID-19 variants. The current data indicates that over coming weeks there is projected to be a significant increase in the number of people infected and subsequently a rise in the numbers of households isolating. The implications of which suggest an increase in hospitalisation rates and a risk that health and other critical services become overwhelmed. The true magnitude of the impact is unlikely to be realised for some weeks.

In response to the presentations, a range of issues were discussed:

  • while all of Scotland is affected, the virus spreads fastest in densely populated areas
  • the potential for impact on public services is acute, particularly for vulnerable island and rural communities
  • there remains much uncertainty about the impact of Omicron; for example, in regard to its impact on the older community or the rates of hospitalisation. Consequently the timescale for the peak of infections is difficult to predict
  • the protection provided by vaccine boosters is key – communications campaigns will be encouraging as many to come forward for their booster as possible
  • resilience planning is ongoing to review absence levels and implications – any subsequent decisions about reallocating resources towards critical services will be at a local level
  • the overall picture of the level of severity will be clearer over the next few weeks as more data becomes available
  • intergenerational mixing over Christmas is likely to be a factor – the government will be giving advice that individuals should conduct lateral flow tests before they mix with others

Winter preparedness and impact of new COVID-19 variant

John Burns (Chief Operating Officer NHS Scotland) provided the Group with an overview of the current pressures facing the health and social care sectors. The level of uncertainty regarding Omicron has made planning more challenging. The governance arrangements and actions being taken to maintain and develop resilience in critical and urgent services was noted.

Stephen Gallagher (Director for Vaccine Strategy and Policy) followed with an update on the vaccination and booster programmes. Health Boards have taken a range of actions to increase workforce capacity and venue capacity and flow, resulting in reduced waiting times and wider choice and availability of vaccination centres.

In response to the presentations, members discussed:

  • support for students requiring flexibility in vaccination appointments
  • mass vaccination centres (Hampden and EICC) are being stood up to meet increased demand along with increased localised delivery of vaccination services
  • increasing resilience capacity to respond to changes in levels of hospitalisations
  • the role of Local Government in providing care services and interface between care in the community and delayed discharge
  • the impact of the new variant on the economy and livelihoods and the ongoing engagement with the UK Government on financial compensation

AOB and next meeting

Officials will canvass group members for a suitable date in due course.

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