Developing our strategic intent
The progress highlighted above – and, in particular, the significant reduction in direct health harm as a result of vaccination since our strategic intent was outlined in October 2020 – means that we have now reached a transition point in our approach to dealing with COVID-19. Notwithstanding the uncertainties surrounding the Delta variant, the link between cases, serious illness, hospitalisation and deaths appears to be weakening and the length of time that people are spending in hospital with COVID-19 is declining. This means that we can move away from the approach of suppressing the virus to the lowest possible level and keeping it there. Instead, we can focus our efforts on suppressing the virus to a level which allows us to alleviate the various harms of COVID-19 while we enable Scotland to recover and rebuild for a better future. As set out in the First Minister's Statement on 26 May 2021, work on our recovery is already well underway.
Our revised strategic intent:
"to suppress the virus to a level consistent with alleviating its harms while we recover and rebuild for a better future."
As the number of people vaccinated in Scotland continues to increase, we expect that the direct harm caused by COVID-19 will continue to be less severe, meaning that we can manage the virus in a less restrictive way and focus more on risk and personal judgement. However, we must be cautious in making this transition. It is important to note that, whilst the relationship between new infections and hospital admissions is changing, it has not disappeared. A sustained period of exponential growth in cases (which happens when the reproduction rate of the virus – or "R" goes above 1) will still lead to growth in hospital admissions and increased health harms, even if the severity of harm is declining on average (for certain individuals it will remain very serious). The ability of our Test and Protect system to identify new cases and quickly contain outbreaks will also be reduced if case numbers remain high for a sustained period.
For those reasons, we must be careful to only lift our remaining restrictions when the conditions are right to do so, potentially in a phased way. We must continue to exercise caution even beyond that point. The judgement on when, and in what order, restrictions can be lifted is a difficult balance and, as our "Four Harms" approach makes clear, there is a range of considerations to take into account.