The Scottish Government is setting up its own expert advisory group to help in the Covid-19 battle, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.
Scotland’s First Minister announced the move as she revealed the number of coronavirus deaths in the country has risen to 22.
That is up by six from Tuesday’s total of 16, the First Minister said, adding a further 51 people are in intensive care suffering from Covid-19 or with symptoms of the virus.
A total of 719 positive coronavirus cases have now been recorded in Scotland, an increase of 135 from 584 on Tuesday.
Ms Sturgeon said: “It is clear that we are now seeing a rapid rise in coronavirus cases in Scotland and we have sustained evidence of community transmission.”
For this reason, she told Scots it is “vital” restrictions imposed during the period of lockdown are complied with.
“It will be sometime before life returns to normal,” she said.
To help with the fight against coronavirus, Ms Sturgeon said the new advisory body is being set up to give “the fullest possible understanding of exactly how the virus is spreading in Scotland”.
During a media briefing at the Scottish Government’s HQ on Wednesday afternoon, Ms Sturgeon said the advisory body will be chaired by Professor Andrew Morris from the University of Edinburgh, who is also chief scientist at the Scottish Government’s health directorate.
Professor David Crossman, the dean of medicine at the University of St Andrews, will serve as vice-chairman.
The new Scottish Government Covid-19 advisory group will supplement the work of Sage – the UK Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies – which has been advising ministers north and south of the border.
Ms Sturgeon said: “At all times, the Scottish Government’s actions have been guided by the best and most up to date expert scientific advice, working closely of course with Governments across the UK.
“But as the number of cases increase it is evermore important that we have the fullest possible understanding of exactly how the virus is spreading in Scotland.
“We need to be certain that the decisions we are taking are the most effective ones possible and we need to know whether there are more steps that are required to be taken.
“So for that reason I can confirm today we are now seeking to supplement the advice from the UK Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, or Sage as it is known, and we are establishing a new Scottish Government Covid-19 advisory group.”
With schools shut and Scots on lockdown, Ms Sturgeon said initial estimates show just 1% of people are taking up the childcare places that have been made available to vulnerable children and to key workers such as NHS staff.
The Scottish Government had been “deeply worried” about the number of people who would try to get a place, the First Minister revealed.
She said the small number was a “positive sign” people are “complying with these necessary restrictions”.
As further evidence of this she said the number of journeys made with free bus passes has fallen by more than 70%.
But Ms Sturgeon pledged the Scottish Government will pay bus companies for the amount of journeys they expected to make under the concessionary travel scheme – not the number that take place.
While she stressed most businesses are complying with the restrictions, Ms Sturgeon said she is concerned some workers have been put under “unnecessary and unacceptable pressure” by bosses.
To help make clear whether firms should stay open or not, she said the Scottish Government will publish further guidance for bosses on this.
But she stressed: “Fundamentally, most businesses should and will know whether they should be closed and we are relying on them to be responsible at this time of emergency and to act on the basis of the precautionary principle and put the health of their workers first.”
Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said she was “appalled that so many businesses are failing to comply with the essential Covid-19 lockdown”.
She added: “These irresponsible actions are risking lives and putting additional pressure on the NHS at a time of national emergency.
“I am inundated with local inquiries from worried workers.
“I won’t name and shame all the employers publicly because many of my constituents are fearful of losing their jobs but I will be passing on information to the authorities.”