Cross-border Covid-19 cluster detected as Scotland’s death rate normalises

Coronavirus testing
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13:53pm, Wed 01 Jul 2020
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A cross-border cluster of coronavirus infections has been detected in the south-west of Scotland and north-west of England, Scotland’s national clinical director has said.

At the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing, Jason Leitch said there has been a “single-figures” outbreak in Dumfries and Galloway.

His comments come as the latest figures indicate the number of people dying in Scotland has returned to normal levels.

Five positive coronavirus cases were recorded in Dumfries and Galloway in Tuesday’s virus statistics.

Mr Leitch said a number of cases have been identified around Gretna and Annan, adding: “It’s worth noting that the last positive case in Dumfries and Galloway health board was on June 22.

“This is a complex but small cluster captured in different testing areas; in a hospital testing site, in a mobile testing unit and in a drive-through testing unit.”

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A cross-border incident management team is meeting on Wednesday afternoon to review action to be taken on both sides of the border after it was “decided these cases are connected”, he said.

He said contacts of those infected in Dumfries and Galloway are being traced.

Mr Leitch added the cross-border nature of the outbreak “adds a complexity because some of the testing will have been done in England and some of the testing will have been done in Scotland”.

He said: “They are going to put in place a cross-border incident management team which is exactly what Health Protection Scotland are meant to do with Public Health England, and make sure that we are managing everything we can around the family, the workplaces and everything else.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said people should take reassurance that the cluster has been detected and systems to control the outbreak are “kicking in”.

She added: “Although everything associated with this virus is concerning and causes people anxiety – and I include myself in that – I do think people should also take some assurance from what Jason has just been outlining, because that shows that these systems are in place, and these systems are kicking in when they need to.”

Asked about reports – before the cluster was revealed – that visitors to Scotland from England could be quarantined to help stem the spread of coronavirus, Ms Sturgeon said her decisions on the pandemic are based on public health, not on politics or the constitution.

Mr Leitch also confirmed that two people who work at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray have tested positive for the presence of coronavirus antibodies, suggesting they have previously been infected.

The two individuals are self-isolating and contact tracing is ongoing, he said.

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He added: “Clusters are easier to deal with than sustained community transmission, so we can use precision public health measures, health protection teams, to go to and manage that individual cluster and control it.

“That’s a much easier process than having to suggest to the Cabinet Secretary and the First Minister that ‘we’ve got community transmission again, could you please think about locking down either an area or the whole country’.”

Mr Leitch spoke as the it was revealed the number of people dying in Scotland has returned to normal levels.

Data from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) reveals that from June 22-28, there were 20 fewer deaths (1,006) than the average over the last five years (1,026).

It is the first time since the week of March 23-29, the initial week of lockdown, that the total number of weekly deaths has fallen below the average.

The weekly NRS statistics also reveal the overall death toll for Covid-19 in Scotland is now 4,155, with 35 more deaths recorded in the last week – down 14 on the previous week.

This is the ninth weekly reduction in a row, and the lowest weekly total since mid-March.

Despite the Covid-19 deaths, the total fatality figure is lower than the five-year average as there have been fewer deaths from other causes such as cancer.

Covid-19 deaths accounted for 3% of all fatalities registered this week, down from a peak of 36% during the week of April 20-26.

The NRS figures are published weekly and account for all fatalities registered in Scotland when Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate.

They differ from the lab-confirmed coronavirus deaths announced daily by the Scottish Government using HPS figures because they include suspected or probable cases of Covid-19.

Announcing the latest HPS figures at the daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon said one more person has died of coronavirus in the last 24 hours.

This brings the total number of deaths under this measure to 2,486.

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