Scottish Government COVID-19 Advisory Group minutes: 28 July 2020

A note of the twenty-seventh meeting of the COVID-19 Advisory Group held on 28 July 2020.

This document is part of a collection

Attendees and apologies

Advisory group members

  • Andrew Morris

  • Harry Burns

  •  Jacqui Reilly

  • Marion Bain

  • Jim McMenamin

  • Steve Reicher

  • Aziz Sheikh

  • Mark Woolhouse

  • Devi Sridhar

  • Jill Pell

Invited attendees

  • Cat Carver
  • Chris Chapman

Scottish Government

  • Susan Gallacher
  • Daniel Kleinberg


  • [Redacted]

Items and actions


Welcome and apologies

The Chair welcomed group members and the observers attending today: Susan Gallacher and Chris Chapman.

Apologies – [Redacted]

Criteria to reduce distancing to one metre

The group was asked whether distancing in universities and colleges could be reduced to one metre with mitigations.

Group members noted the that risk of transmission increases the closer people are to one another. As outlined in previously issued advice on physical distancing, reducing the distance to one metre means that the protective benefit of physical distancing would be significantly attenuated. The science underpinning this has not changed and decision to reduce distancing to below two metre would be a policy decision. It would be prudent to maintain suppression efforts as we enter colder months due to the risk of co-circulation of COVID-19 and flu and the burden this could place on the health service. The group acknowledged the balance of harm and the potential detrimental impact on educational attainment, particularly for those already most impacted by COVID-19.

Scotland looks to be moving from community transmission to clusters. To prevent a return to community transmission, new cases in any setting should be closely monitored and traced.

Additional factors were noted for this sector:

  • the arrival of a large number of students, many from higher prevalence settings increases the risk of transmission within the university and in the local community
  • individually students are low risk groups however consideration must be given to the risk of community transmission
  • the time of contact would be greater than 15 minutes in most cases, with lectures typically lasting at least one hour
  • students will mix with different cohorts in classes, social and residential settings. With this age group it is likely that there will be lower adherence and greater risk of slippage
  • additional empirical evidence is needed on the impact of current relaxation of physical distancing in settings such as pubs and hospitality venues. Anecdotal evidence suggests that guidance is not always complied with. A relaxation of two metres rule could increase pressure on community transmission

There is a need for clear guidance on mitigation measures, incorporating current understanding of airborne transmission of the virus. This has implication for the use of visors and Perspex screens in particular. Clear guidance and measures will increase public perception that universities are safe, both domestically and internationally.

One group member noted their support for reducing distancing to one metre as widespread testing should allow blanket restrictions such as two metre distancing to be lifted. 

Advice on higher and further education

Group members commented that universities would like as strict guidance as possible to be able to attract international students by reassuring them that campuses are safe. The group noted that the numbers, age and travel patterns of students all made reopening this sector higher risk in relation to wider prevalence. To that end the group were supportive of recommending a dedicated mitigation strategy being developed. Aspects of what should or could be included were discussed.

Group members recommended that all students should be tested when arriving at university. Testing should be made accessible, with facilities located close to campus where possible. It is also important to ensure students register with primary care providers to allow linkage between sequential samples and facilitate follow-up. – many do not currently register.

Compliance with quarantine measures is important. Students should be supported to do this, with possible disciplinary measures if they do not comply. It is important to ensure that all students are aware of local regulations and practices around COVID-19. Messaging should be clear, as different policies in different phases of education increases complexity and confusion.

It was suggested that some universities could blend COVID-19 monitoring into existing infrastructure (e.g. University of Edinburgh app for new students, which could also include a COVID-19 monitoring function/checklist). Compliance with COVID-19 rules could be included in codes of conduct.

Clear procedures need to be in place if there are new cases detected within universities. To minimise the risk of this leading to new community transmission.

The importance of ventilation and GP registration were also discussed.

Scottish Government policy teams have produced guidance for these sectors which had not been brought to the group.

Action: [Redacted] to draft a note summarising the views of the group on this and additional components that would need to be included in guidance for universities and colleges.

Face coverings in schools

Current advice on reopening schools does not advise generalised wearing of face coverings. A DELVE report on schools has a recommendation that older children and adults should wear face coverings, with these being provided in schools. Group members were asked for their views on this.

Older children closer to adults in terms of transmission and there is a case for being more vigilant of secondary schools versus primary schools.

The outbreak in a secondary school in Israel has suggested that schools can be hot-spots as the risk of older children transmitting the virus is the similar to adults, though one group member noted that this example seems to be an epidemiological anomaly. In theory wearing masks throughout the day would be good, but this would not be likely to work in practice in the UK. Group members agreed that testing of teachers is an important tool to monitor schools and prevent new cases leading to larger outbreaks. Keeping children in cohorts and avoiding settings such as assemblies where large numbers of children congregate is another important mitigation measure.

A clear procedure should be in place for schools where new cases are identified.

The group concluded it did not recommend changing the Children and Education Subgroup’s current advice on schools, but stressed ongoing vigilance is needed. 

Summary Notes

The group met for a shorter meeting to discuss the upcoming start of universities and colleges terms and the importance of having clear guidance in place for students. As with workplace and leisure settings, it will be important to minimise the risk of reopening on levels of COVID-19 transmission in Scotland. 

Group members discussed some possible measures that could be implemented to ensure that students comply with local regulations. It will be important to ensure students are made aware of local laws and expectation regarding COVID-19. They noted that it will also be important for higher and further education institutions to have clear procedures in place if new cases are detected. 

Group members briefly discussed wearing face coverings in schools, noting their support for the advice from the subgroup on Education and Children’s issues which states that “Face coverings are not required for most children (those clinically advised to wear a covering would be an exception). Adults in schools do not need to wear face coverings as long as they can retain two metre distancing. Where adults cannot keep two metre distance, are interacting face-to-face and for about 15 minutes or more, face coverings should be worn.”

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