Before we change any of the restrictions currently in place, we will need to see sustained evidence that the transmission of the virus is continuing to be suppressed. We shall also want to be confident that the public are aware that, whatever measures change, there will still be a need for physical distancing, stringent hygiene and high vigilance for the symptoms of the virus.
Test, Trace, Isolate and Support
We will also ensure that we have in place the equipment, testing capacity and the arrangements necessary to contain the virus and care for those infected by it. This includes the significant enhancement of testing capacity now coming on-stream and building on that to establish the ability to "test, trace, isolate and support" cases of the virus.
Testing and tracing does not of itself suppress the virus. Combined with surveillance of the virus in the wider community, and once cases have reduced to a low level, it will make it more likely that cases can be isolated and localised outbreaks prevented from re-emerging as sustained community transition. "Test, trace, isolate and support" can only work with the support and co-operation of people across Scotland, who may be asked to give samples for tests, share information about their recent contacts so that those at risk of infection can be traced and tested, and to isolate for long enough, potentially several times, to ensure that they have not contracted the virus.
Our success will ultimately hinge on our ability to detect a high proportion of outbreaks very quickly, as even a very small number of undetected cases can develop into a major outbreak in a matter of days. Test, trace, isolate and support will be coupled with community surveillance to enable effective suppression of outbreaks. We are working with clinicians, Public Health Scotland and NHS Boards to enable the design of data systems to enable the tackling of outbreaks at local levels.
Planning for moving safely to the new normal
The changes we are considering will require careful planning. Businesses, public services and the third sector will need time to plan and to prepare workplaces, processes, supply chains, logistics and financial provisions in order to introduce any changes safely and effectively. Communities, households and individuals will also need to adapt.
As we conduct further reviews of the restrictions now in place, we shall look to establish a rhythm of assessment, implementation and monitoring, so that changes can be undertaken effectively, and we can respond to future changes in the transmission of the virus, including by reintroducing restrictions where that is justified, necessary and proportionate. We shall be discussing with sector and service leaders what lead-time is required for changes, and will take that into account in mapping the route ahead and setting out more detail on phasing.
We are also working closely with Police Scotland and others to assess the best ways to ensure continued good compliance where it remains necessary to keep restrictions in place, and enforcement of those which are legal requirements. We recognise that expecting people and organisations to comply with the difficult rules means that we must, in turn, enable people to tell us about how these rules are affecting them. We must listen to those views and take account of them in our future decision making. We also recognise that people tend to comply with the rules when they are able to do so. This means that we must ensure that the right support is in place - provided by different levels of government, the broader public sector and wider partners - to enable everyone to comply with the rules.
Potential for geographical variation
We will continue to keep an open mind about the potential for geographical variation in our approach, guided by the evidence. This geographical variation could occur across the UK although, as stated in the Framework, we will only do that if the evidence and our judgement indicates that this would best meet Scotland's particular needs and circumstances. We will continue to engage in the collective Four Nations process.
Geographical variation could also happen within Scotland. For example, future evidence may indicate that there are certain geographies where a differential approach, or different timings in the same broad approach, would be appropriate. Assessment of the right way forward would factor in broader considerations, including the scope for any geographical (or sectoral) variation to impact on the clarity of communication and broader operational considerations, for example in relation to localised testing measures and travel restrictions in the event of a geographically varied approach. And we would listen to the views of people, businesses and organisations affected by such changes. No decisions on this have been made at this stage and we will continue to keep this option under review as part of our broader review process.
The next stage of our work will include preparing more detailed reviews of options for change, consistent with the themes, approach and principles set out in the Framework. These more detailed reviews will include:
- assessments of the options in terms of their impact on the risk of infection and their potential to reduce harm to Scotland's health, society and economy, in a fair and ethical way;
- consideration of the options and how they would be communicated to enable compliance, engagement and accountability;
- the changes to regulations and guidance that would need to be made to introduce each option in a lawful way;
- outline plans for implementing each option in a realistic and collective way, indicating the work required to ensure the change is managed in a viable and effective way, the likely timescale between a decision to implement and the change being made, who is responsible and accountable for that work, and who needs to contribute to it and be kept informed about it. Such plans would include assessments of the steps needed to reverse each option, should that prove justified, necessary and proportionate.
We intend to publish further updates on this work ahead of the next end-of-cycle review date of 28 May.