A “circuit-breaker” lockdown could help Scotland reduce Covid-19 infection rates by getting the R number down, the national clinical director has said.
Jason Leitch told BBC Scotland a two-week circuit-breaker could buy the country 28 days in the pandemic.
He said some closures to business and education would deliver a “short, sharp shock” to the R number without the need for a full lockdown.
The Scottish government has warned of a “rising prevalence” of the virus.
Another 758 positive cases were confirmed on Sunday and Deputy First Minister John Swinney said further restrictions may be introduced to combat the spread of coronavirus.
The numbers of Covid-19 patients in hospital and those being treated in intensive care is also rising.
Speaking on BBC Scotland’s Seven Days programme, Mr Leitch said a circuit-breaker – a short period of tightened restrictions – was about “buying yourself more time”.
“Not full lockdown like 23 March – so you might make some choices in there about schools or about further education – but fundamentally a short, sharp shock to the R number,” he said.
“You get the R number down, you get the numbers down to a reasonable level and then you can begin to reintroduce some of the things that you’ve closed.
“So the idea is that a two-week, roughly, circuit-breaker, would buy you 28 days. You don’t know that for sure, because it’s not an exact science, but it would buy you about a month in the pandemic.”
Public health officials are worried.
As cases rise, it doesn’t take much to go from dealing with small outbreaks successfully to the virus spreading out of control. It becomes much harder to spot where outbreaks start, stretching the Test and Protect system.
This is why some favour the idea of a “circuit breaker”. Introducing a lot of restrictions all at once – perhaps for a couple of weeks – means you can successfully drive infection rates down and you regain control.
But most experts will say that a circuit breaker only buys you time and may have to be done several times to have an impact. It goes without saying, the stricter the conditions, the bigger the difference in denting that R number, the rate of transmission.
It would make sense to do it when the schools are off and when there is still some economic support through the furlough scheme, but the October break comes at different times in Scotland – and also earlier than the rest of the UK. The first minister has also said she would prefer a four nations approach to major changes in restrictions.
This is the dilemma for the government now. Officials have to decide just how far to go and if, or when to push the button.
Mr Leitch said there was a choice to be made on whether a circuit-breaker lockdown would be a cost “worth paying”.
The R number – also known as the R-value or reproduction number – is a way of rating any disease’s ability to spread and refers to the average number of people an individual would be expected to infect.
The higher the number, the more out of control a disease is.
If the reproduction number is higher than one, then the number of cases increases exponentially.
But if the number is lower the disease will eventually stop spreading, as not enough new people are being infected to sustain the outbreak.
The Scottish government estimates the R number could have been above one since early September and currently could be as high as 1.7.