Scottish Government COVID-19 Advisory Group minutes: 16 December 2020

A note of the thirty-ninth meeting of the COVID-19 Advisory Group held on 16 December 2020.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory Group members:

  • Andrew Morris
  • David Crossman
  • Gregor Smith
  • Nicola Steedman
  • Dave Caesar
  • Roger Halliday
  • Jim McMenamin
  • Angela Leitch
  • Sheila Rowan
  • Chris Robertson
  • Tom Evans
  • Jill Pell
  • Devi Sridhar
  • Mark Woolhouse
  • Aziz Sheikh
  • Nick Hopkins
  • Stephen Reicher
  • Carol Tannahill
  • Jacqui Reilly
  • Harry Burns

Invited attendees:

  • Cat Carver


  • Daniel Kleinberg

Secretariat: [REDACTED] 

Items and actions


The chair welcomed group members and noted that today’s meeting is shortened due to a deep-dive session on planning for 2021. 


The minutes of the previous meeting have been shared with group members for comments by 9 a.m. on 21 December. 


Daniel Kleinberg provided an update on Scottish Government policy developments. Medium to long term consideration is being given to vaccines, testing, NPIs, treatments and how the interaction of these could inform government strategy in 2021 and beyond. 

Nicola Steedman noted this, adding that the testing landscape in particular is an important consideration. There is growing pressure from a wide range of players for increased testing so refining the use of this and new and emerging testing technologies and their uses will be helpful. 

Dave Caesar and Carol Tannahill commented that it is important to examine what can be done about the effects of inequality. 

Regarding the vaccine, Devi Sridhar noted the importance of data on the impact of the vaccine on transmission. This will be an important factor in determining when NPI restrictions may be able to be eased. She added that the vaccine has not yet been trialled in children so it will be important to understand what future developments are expected for this group. 

The group briefly discussed the emerging strain of covid, with Jim McMenamin providing an overview of current evidence on this. The new variant under investigation is continually undergoing risk assessment to determine what is known about the transmissibility between humans, susceptibility of the population, whether the vaccine is protective or not, and the impact of drugs or therapeutics. More evidence is expected to emerge in coming days with SAGE and NERVTAG considering this shortly. COGUK and SPI-M are also discussing this new variant. 

It appears increasingly clear that the proportion of individuals with this variant has been increasing in November and now December, though early evidence has shown that this mutation is not present in all geographic areas that are seeing a significant increase in cases. Currently a very small number of the cases of this mutation have been identified in Scotland. 

Group members noted that we have already seen other variants of covid mutations but that comparatively, the virus does not mutate very rapidly. An important consideration going forward is selection pressure on the spike protein as population immunity is built-up. Gregor Smith and David Crossman noted that it is too early to speculate about the future contribution of this strain. Further research will help to determine what, if any, additional risks this mutation presents. 

Gregor Smith thanked group members for their work since the start of the pandemic. Andrew Morris noted that this is expect to be the group’s last meeting in 2020.

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