Scottish Government COVID-19 Advisory Group minutes: 18 May 2020

A note of the sixteenth meeting of the COVID-19 Advisory Group held on Monday 18 May 2020.

Attendees and apologies

Advisory group members

  • Andrew Morris
  • Angela Leitch
  • Aziz Sheikh
  • Chris Robertson
  • David Crossman
  • Jill Pell
  • Mark Woolhouse
  • Stephen Reicher
  • Tom Evans
  • Jim McMenamin
  •  Jacqui Reilly
  •  Devi Sridhar
  • David Crossman
  • Nicola Steedman
  • Sheila Rowan

Invited attendees

  • Mary Black

Scottish Government

  • Roger Halliday
  • Niamh O’Connor
  • Richard Foggo
  • Donna Bell


  • [Redacted]

Items and actions


Welcome and apologies

Chair welcomed all attendees.

Apologies – [Redacted]

Minutes and actions

No comments on most recent minute. Meeting with First Minister on Shielding discussed. Joint biosecurity centre discussed, potential topic for another meeting.

CSA update

Note that the group is receiving a large volume of requests and CSA is going to assist with process to refine these. Also linking in with other nations on modelling work, CSA will assist with coordination.

Education – early learning

Request followed on from advice from group on education. Response requested by Wednesday.


  • noted significant number of asks, many of which more suited to educationalists
  • suggestions for group’s response included outlining international best practice, noting where more evidence is needed, signposting where advice may be available – e.g. PHS advice on sector readiness
  • emphasise need for research and development as any changes are made
  • can the group suggest research to be done? Coordination with UKRI would be important – SAGE is setting priorities which influence funding decisions
  • caution over a series of exit strategies from different levels of lockdown if there won’t be better evidence later
  • likely that well over half a million children have been exposed to the virus, but if consequences take months or years to show themselves we won’t know for some time
  • as children are often asymptomatic, it is hard to tell whether there have been any outbreaks associated with schools, significant uncertainty in this area. Teachers and other adults working in schools would be the sentinel cases
  • still uncertain whether children transmit the virus. If so, this appears to be rare
  • difficulty of giving advice in the face of a lack of evidence
  • in Scotland very few children have been hospitalised and none have died. HPS tests show low positivity rate in tests conducted in children. Could this be shared publically? Transparency may be very helpful
  • public trust can be maintained by framing decisions in terms of balancing risks to wellbeing. People are more willing to take a risk to mitigate a definite loss
  • noted that the Scottish Government has access to education experts and social scientists, who will advise on the harms from the educational and social perspective  of schools being shut

Action: [Redacted] to share HPS data on number of children tested and positivity rate

Action: Group to pull together consensus statement by close of play on Wednesday 20 May. Start from Scottish data, then UK data, stick to scientific evidence and be clear on the limits of what can be said, and flag areas where further research would be useful. Signpost other potential sources where data or advice may be available, but do not follow up if outside group’s scope

Action: Secretariat to pull together comments on Slack into a single Word document and send to Chair


Following on from Framework for Decision Making, Scottish Government is producing a further document on exit from lockdown and the group will be invited to comment. Comments will be needed by end of Wednesday 20 May.

Summary notes

1. The Advisory Group held a deep dive discussion on return to education, with a particular focus on early learning. The group noted that their expertise spans epidemiology, virology, public health, behavioural sciences, global health, medicine and statistical modelling, and advice given on this issue will come from that perspective. The group noted further that the Scottish Government would need to balance any health risks associated with school return against the harms of missing education and childcare, and that the Scottish Government has access to relevant experts who can advise on this.

2. The group noted that the positivity rate of tests for COVID-19 carried out in children has been far lower than for other age groups. Additionally, it appears to be rare for children to experience severe symptoms.

3. The group discussed that it is still a matter of uncertainty whether children are implicated in transmission of the virus. This appears to be rare, which is significant in the context of early learning, where social distancing will not be possible.

4. The Group also considered the regular update of discussions at SAGE and between 4 nation Chief Scientific Advisers. 

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