Nicola Sturgeon has told people living in Aberdeen they should not leave the city for any holidays as confirmed cases in the coronavirus outbreak rose overnight to at least 79.
The first minister said the city’s 229,000 residents had to observe the emergency lockdown rules that forbid non-essential journeys more than five miles from home. That included not taking holidays in Scotland, the UK or overseas, she said.
“Our advice to the people of Aberdeen is that you should not be going on holiday right now, either to other parts of Scotland, or to other parts of the UK. We advise against overseas holiday in general for people right across Scotland,” she said.
“We’re also advising people outside of Aberdeen not to travel to the city for leisure purposes or to visit friends and family.”
The emergency lockdown was imposed on Wednesday after a cluster of 54 cases emerged in the city over the weekend. Sturgeon said that in addition to the 25 new cases identified overnight, another 30 confirmed cases in the area were being investigated to see if they were linked to the outbreak. In Scotland as a whole, 67 new positive cases were detected overnight.
She said this showed Scotland was not immune to the fresh outbreaks seen in other countries, and elsewhere in the UK.
“We know how tough this is. I know this is a real blow to the city and all of us regret having to take this decision,” she told her regular coronavirus briefing.
Sturgeon was speaking after Scotland’s health secretary played down the prospects of Aberdeen’s emergency lockdown being extended to other parts of the economy or the region after the outbreak in cases there.
Jeane Freeman said NHS Grampian’s contact tracers had so far found and spoken to all 191 people identified as being in close contact with the 54 people known to be infected in the city, and all had been told to self-isolate for 14 days.
Freeman confirmed ministers would act quickly if there was evidence of wider community transmission, but that had not yet emerged. Further data would be published later on Thursday, she said, to show whether new Covid-19 cases had emerged in the city or wider area.
Freeman said the sudden lockdown in Aberdeen was designed to prevent any wider community transmission, chiefly to prevent the outbreak from growing and leading to schools in the city not reopening next week.
The city council is planning a phased return of its primary and secondary schools from 11 August before reaching 100% attendance on 17 August.
“The priority is to get the schools back. We’ve been really clear about that,” Freeman told BBC Radio Scotland. “That is the priority across the country.
“If there is a need for extra measures to help us do that – either in the north-east or anywhere else – we are prepared to take those additional steps. But right at the moment, there is nothing to tell me that we need to do more in Aberdeen city than we have already done.”
The Covid-19 pandemic is currently unfolding in “one big wave” with no evidence that it follows seasonal variations common to influenza and other coronaviruses, such as the common cold, the World Health Organization has warned.
Epidemics of infectious diseases behave in different ways but the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people is regarded as a key example of a pandemic that occurred in multiple waves, with the latter more severe than the first. It has been replicated – albeit more mildly – in subsequent flu pandemics. Until now that had been what was expected from Covid-19.
How and why multiple-wave outbreaks occur, and how subsequent waves of infection can be prevented, has become a staple of epidemiological modelling studies and pandemic preparation, which have looked at everything from social behaviour and health policy to vaccination and the buildup of community immunity, also known as herd immunity.
Is there evidence of coronavirus coming back in a second wave?
This is being watched very carefully. Without a vaccine, and with no widespread immunity to the new disease, one alarm is being sounded by the experience of Singapore, which has seen a sudden resurgence in infections despite being lauded for its early handling of the outbreak.
Although Singapore instituted a strong contact tracing system for its general population, the disease re-emerged in cramped dormitory accommodation used by thousands of foreign workers with inadequate hygiene facilities and shared canteens.
Singapore’s experience, although very specific, has demonstrated the ability of the disease to come back strongly in places where people are in close proximity and its ability to exploit any weakness in public health regimes set up to counter it.
In June 2020, Beijing suffered from a new cluster of coronavirus cases which caused authorities to re-implement restrictions that China had previously been able to lift. In the UK, the city of Leicester was unable to come out of lockdown because of the development of a new spike of coronavirus cases. Clusters also emerged in Melbourne, requiring a re-imposition of lockdown conditions.
What are experts worried about?
Conventional wisdom among scientists suggests second waves of resistant infections occur after the capacity for treatment and isolation becomes exhausted. In this case the concern is that the social and political consensus supporting lockdowns is being overtaken by public frustration and the urgent need to reopen economies.
However Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, says “‘Second wave’ isn’t a term that we would use at the current time, as the virus hasn’t gone away, it’s in our population, it has spread to 188 countries so far, and what we are seeing now is essentially localised spikes or a localised return of a large number of cases.”
The overall threat declines when susceptibility of the population to the disease falls below a certain threshold or when widespread vaccination becomes available.
In general terms the ratio of susceptible and immune individuals in a population at the end of one wave determines the potential magnitude of a subsequent wave. The worry is that with a vaccine still many months away, and the real rate of infection only being guessed at, populations worldwide remain highly vulnerable to both resurgence and subsequent waves.
Sturgeon announced on Wednesday a partial emergency lockdown in Aberdeen, which involved closing all pubs, bars and restaurants for at least seven days, and a ban on non-essential travel beyond five miles except for people travelling to work or school.
NHS Grampian said on Wednesday night visits had been cancelled for all the city’s hospitals, although the maternity hospital would allow one partner to attend births and the children’s hospital would allow one parent or guardian with a child.
The health board said it had identified 32 bars, restaurants and golf clubs that had been visited by infected people in the city and in Aberdeenshire, including the Aboyne golf club 30 miles from Aberdeen. It added that a further 36 new cases had cropped up in the Grampian area on Wednesday.
Sturgeon said the lockdown could be extended to cover other towns and villages if necessary.
Meanwhile several businesses named by NHS Grampian as places visited by infected people said they were unaware they had been identified. The BrewDog bar on Castlegate tweeted that it had not been contacted before it was named by NHS Grampian.
Robert Lindsay, the owner of the Marine hotel in Stonehaven, 16 miles south of Aberdeen, said on Facebook it had not been contacted either before being named by NHS Grampian.
Lindsay announced on Thursday morning he was closing the hotel voluntarily, as a precaution, after health officials later confirmed an infected person had visited it.