Our COVID-19: Strategic Framework sets out the various elements of our approach to managing the pandemic in Scotland. Since the last update to the Strategic Framework in June 2021, we eased restrictions in July and August but retained several legal measures as well as guidance to help keep the virus under control. Alongside this, our COVID-19 vaccination programme has continued to roll out and expand in coverage so that 88% of the adult population is now double vaccinated and a booster programme is underway.
Increasing vaccination coverage has driven rising immunity in Scotland. This enabled the move 'beyond Level 0' and the lifting of most restrictions during the course of the summer as planned. This reflected our strategic intent "to suppress the virus to a level consistent with alleviating its harms while we recover and rebuild for a better future." Lifting restrictions has helped to alleviate the broader harms of the pandemic, but those harms remain. There are no longer any restrictions requiring the closure of sectors. Overall economic output and labour-market indicators have returned almost to pre-pandemic levels and our public services are recovering following the disruption caused during the earlier stages of the pandemic. However, the situation remains challenging. There remain significant harms that accumulated from the restrictions in the earlier stages of the pandemic and these are felt unevenly across different groups in society and some sectors of the economy continue to perform considerably below pre-pandemic levels. Our COVID Recovery Strategy sets out how we plan to address those harms and secure a better, fairer and greener future for Scotland.
While progress in recent months has been positive, we have continued to face significant challenges. In late June/early July and over the course of August/early September, we saw two significant peaks in new cases of the virus in Scotland. Vaccination has significantly reduced the link between new cases and serious health harm, but that link is not broken. Consequently, these peaks in cases still resulted in significant health harm and deaths, underlining the tragic toll that the pandemic continues to exert. Importantly, cases declined significantly following both of these peaks without the need for further restrictions. This reflected various factors including the increased level of immunity and continued adherence to the remaining measures and guidance in place. However, cases today remain at an elevated level and our NHS faces very significant ongoing pressures that COVID-19 is exacerbating. We expect a challenging winter ahead, with the influenza season a particular risk. We also know that the effect of the COVID-19 vaccine reduces over time, underlining the need for the current booster vaccination programme.
It is within the context of these foreseeable pressures, and the risk of increasing COVID-19 cases, that this update of the Strategic Framework sets out our latest approach to managing the pandemic. For this approach to succeed, we need to maintain our collective effort, to adhere to the rules and guidance, and to get vaccinated when eligible.
The various interventions in place to tackle the epidemic are set out in the six elements of our Strategic Framework below: vaccination; the Test and Protect system; protective measures – including legal requirements and guidance; managing the risk of importation of the virus; supporting adherence; and providing care and support to mitigate the harms of the crisis. These will provide the platform for sustainable recovery and a better and fairer future but we will not forget the harm and loss that we have endured. We must, and will, learn lessons for the future – our forthcoming public inquiry will help to understand and to explain what happened and why, and help us to manage future challenges better.
The vaccination programme continues to make significant progress and has expanded to 12-17 year olds as well as providing booster jags for eligible individuals. The booster programme is now rolling out alongside our biggest ever influenza vaccination programme.
Test and Protect
Test and Protect remains a vital tool in our response to COVID-19. Going forward, genomic sequencing and surveillance will be instrumental in minimising vaccine escape and serious disease.
Several legal requirements remain in place in order to keep the virus under control. These include mandatory face coverings in most indoor public settings and on public transport (except for those who are exempt). A vaccine certification scheme has also been introduced for certain higher transmission-risk settings. In addition to these legal requirements, a range of guidance is in place to help people, businesses and other organisations reduce the risk of transmission. These cover matters such as working from home and protective measures in schools. In combination, we believe that these 'baseline measures' remain necessary for the time being to reduce the harms of the pandemic as immunity alone is not yet sufficient. And for these baseline measures to work effectively, we need to maintain strong adherence. We continue to keep all legal measures under review to ensure they remain necessary and proportionate. If the state of the pandemic deteriorates significantly – for example, because of vaccine waning or a more transmissible and harmful variant – then we will be ready to respond with targeted and proportionate interventions, reflecting epidemiological conditions at the time. We hope that this will not prove necessary but also know that early, effective intervention can avoid the need for tougher measures later.
Managing the risk of importation
Proportionate border measures continue to be used to help mitigate against the importation of the virus and particularly against the importation of new variants.
By promoting vaccination, testing, and adherence to rules and guidance we aim reduce transmission and avoid the need for further restrictions. We will continue to work with our partners in this shared endeavour through effective communications and marketing, stakeholder and other forms of support. Continuing strong adherence remains imperative for keeping the virus under control.
Providing care and support to mitigate the harms of the crisis
A key element within our approach to managing the pandemic is the provision of care and support to those people, organisations and businesses affected by the crisis. In particular significant progress is being made in the treatment of COVID-19 and 'long COVID'. We continue to work closely with sectors across the economy and broader society to support the further reduction of harms from the pandemic. In combination, and supported by the continued efforts of people, businesses and organisations right across Scotland, we believe that these measures can alleviate the broader harms of the pandemic as we also turn our focus to COVID-19 recovery.