Scotland’s interim chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith has warned coronavirus is “here to stay” and new methods must be found to protect the public against it.
Dr Smith suggested Covid-19 would become like seasonal flu, meaning regular action is needed to limit the death toll.
His remarks were made at the first minister’s daily coronavirus briefing where Nicola Sturgeon indicated alternatives to lockdown would have to be found to deal with the threat until a vaccine arrives.
Dr Smith said vaccines would be part of the solution when they are developed but said new approaches and medicines would also have to be explored.
“I think we are all coming to the realisation that coronavirus is here to stay with us and we need to find ways of dealing with that in the longer term and not just the shorter term,” Dr Smith said.
“We have done the same in the past when you think about it with flu — because flu is one of these other very dangerous circulating pathogens that has just become endemic in our society and comes around on a cyclical basis.
“And we need to be able to respond to that in a way that takes a different type of approach – different types of measures to try and make sure we reduce the risk of harm to people in our society.
“I think we will come to the same position over time with coronavirus. Now at the moment the tools in our armoury are to make sure we suppress the disease down as far as possible to protect those who are the most vulnerable.
I think we are all coming to the realisation that coronavirus is here to stay with us and we need to find ways of dealing with that in the longer term…”
Dr Gregor Smith
“But in the future I can foresee a time when will be taking a similar approaches as we do currently to flu and looking at other mechanisms to try and make sure we safeguard people. And some of that will be about the development of new approaches and medicines. Some of that will be about the development of vaccines.”
But Dr Smith added that at the moment the priority remained preventing the spread of the virus by observing the lockdown.
“We need to make sure that we are getting there first. And to get there first we need to take these quite unusual measures to protect those who are most vulnerable in the meantime,” Dr Smith said.
Other ways must be found to deal with virus
Ms Sturgeon said coronavirus was “not simply going to go away” and suppression measures would have to be in place for “some time to come”.
The first minister said officials were looking at how to come out of the lockdown and whether to have different approaches for differing population groups or businesses.
But she said it was too early to start doing that, but she hoped to share some of the options in the near future. One would be moving back to the “contain phase” where contacts of patients were traced and tested.
As time moves on, options other than lockdown would be explored, the first minister said.
“We will have to find other ways of doing that until a vaccine becomes available or treatments become available,” Ms Sturgeon said. “We are looking very carefully at how you potentially do that, at least in part through what’s called test, trace and isolate. Where you go back into a situation where we are trying to contain the virus there are no definitive decisions about this yet and I want to stress that.”