The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2022 and The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 2) Regulations 2022: equality impact assessment

This equality impact assessment (EQIA) is to analyse the potential impacts for each protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 of amending the definition of fully vaccinated to include the requirement for a booster if a primary course of MHRA vaccine was over 120 days ago and amend the definition of late night venue.

Public health rationale

The COVID-19 epidemic continues to pose considerable challenges. After decreasing in November 2021, new case rates rose sharply from the end of December and peaked in early January 2022. The 7 day positive PCR case rates per 100,000 are currently averaging around under a 1,000 per day (based on PCR tests only). However, it should be noted that on 5 January 2022, the Scottish Government announced that people who do not have symptoms of Covid-19 will no longer be asked to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm a positive Lateral Flow Device (LFD) result. Instead, anyone with a positive LFD, who does not have symptoms, should report the result online as soon as the test is done. This means that those without symptoms who previously would have taken a confirmatory PCR test, will no longer do so. As a result, these positive cases are not directly comparable with previously reported number of cases. Weekly hospital admissions with confirmed COVID-19 have started to decrease over the last week. Case rates and age standardised hospital admissions are considerably lower in vaccinated versus unvaccinated individuals. Modelling indicates uncertainty over hospital occupancy and intensive care in the next four weeks. Hospitals are currently at, or very close to, capacity and have been in this position for many weeks now with several Health Boards operating within an environment of unprecedented pressure and heightened risk, plus a requirement for military support. This is likely to be driven by Covid-19 cases and delayed discharges but also may reflect that patients with higher acuity are now requiring admission.

Omicron is now the dominant variant across the UK[6]. Risk assessments on Omicron (B.1.1.529) have been published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).[7] The growth advantage has been designated as red, with a high confidence, indicating that Omicron has a significant growth advantage over Delta, with greater household transmission risk and secondary attack rate being seen. [8] [9] There is high confidence that immune evasion is a substantial contributor to the growth advantage but it is also biologically plausible that increased transmissibility of the omicron variant is also contributing.

Therefore, the transmissibility of Omicron has been designated as amber with a low confidence by the UKHSA indicating that that Omicron is at least as transmissible as Delta but further analysis is required.[10] There is also evidence of widespread community transmission of Omicron.[11] [12]

Immune evasion to both natural and vaccine derived immunity has been designated as red with a high confidence by the UKHSA indicating that there is evidence of frequent infection in humans with known prior infection or vaccination[13]. Neutralisation data, real world vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease, and reinfection rate all confirm substantial immune evasion properties[14] [15].

Infection severity has been designated as green with high confidence by the UKHSA meaning there is evidence to support a moderate reduction in the relative risk of hospitalisation compared to Delta, ranging from 15 to 80%[16] [17]. The data published by UKHSA indicate that the risk of attending hospital or emergency care is around half that of Delta and the risk of being admitted from emergency care around is around one third of Delta[18]. SAGE 102 minutes identify a potential reduction of 35-65% for the risk of hospitalisation compared to Delta[19]. The reduction in infection severity is likely to be partly due to the nature of the variant and partly due to protection from prior infection; however, the relative contributions of the two factors has not been quantified[20]. Early data from COVID-19 Clinical Information Network (CO-CIN) considered by SAGE on 7 January 2022 indicate that the severity of disease being observed in hospital over the last three weeks is lower than observed in early phases of previous waves, with less need for oxygen, less admission to intensive care, better outcomes, and shorter stays[21]. From the SAGE 101 meeting on 23 December 2021, UKHSA data suggests a doubling time of 4 to 5 days for hospitalisations[22].

Infection severity in children has been designated as amber with a low confidence as, although there has been an increase in hospital admissions, further analysis is required to compare the risk of hospitalisation between Omicron and Delta, and to assess the clinical nature of the illness in children [23]

The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O) concluded that "If omicron in the UK combines increased transmissibility and immune escape, irrespective of severity, it is highly likely that very stringent measures would be required to control growth and keep R below 1"[24].

Our primary and secondary health and social care services are facing arguably the most significant and increasing pressures and demands in the history of the NHS. The winter period is also posing significant challenges of increased transmission and related pressure on the National Health Service. We remain of the view that action is therefore needed across all sectors to ensure adherence to baseline measures. Drawing on the evidence so far available, we consider that Covid Status Certification has an important role to play as one such measure including as a precautionary measure in light of the new Omicron variant.



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