Coronavirus in Scotland: ANALYSIS: Why have no restrictions been eased?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has given an update to the Scottish Parliament detailing the local Covid-19 restrictions that will come into force from Friday.

Nicola Sturgeon at a Covid-19 press briefing.
Nicola Sturgeon at a Covid-19 press briefing.

This is the first update to the five-level system, which was introduced last week and will be reviewed weekly.

No local area has been placed into level four, the highest tier of restrictions.

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But three areas – Fife, Angus, and Perth and Kinross – have been moved up from level two to level three.

Restrictions have not been moved down a level anywhere. The First Minister instead hinted that it may be more likely for some areas to move up to level four – especially Inverclyde and Stirling, and to a lesser extent South Ayrshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire.

So why have no restrictions gone down?

Ms Sturgeon said when the new level system was introduced at the end of October that if progress in slowing the rate of new cases continued in the next couple of weeks then local authorities could move down a level.

In light of this, some people and businesses in certain areas were unhappy to see they had not been moved down from level three – especially areas with relatively few cases.

There have been calls in particular for East Lothian to move down to level two, given that just 75 cases have been reported in the last seven days.

Guidance issued by the Scottish Government acknowledged that there had been a reduction in cases in East Lothian, but said there has been “no evidence of sustained improvement”. The area will be monitored with a potential reduction to level two in the near future.

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Falkirk also has lower case rates, at 65.9 positive cases reported per 100,000 population in the last week, on a par with Dumfries and Galloway, which is in level two.

But pressure on ICU capacity in NHS Forth Valley is one reason given for Falkirk staying in level three, while Dumfries and Galloway was assessed to have “initial signs of relative stability in both cases and test positivity rate”.

Nor did Edinburgh make it out of level three, despite case rates being much lower than in Glasgow, which is in the same restriction level, at 83.8 cases in the last week in Edinburgh per 100,000 people compared to 313.8 in Glasgow.

The Scottish Government found a “small increase” in test positivity rates compared to the previous assessment, but noted that the city will be monitored for a potential move down a level.

Decisions are made about which level to place each area in based on five factors.

The first three relate to rates of Covid-19 in the area: The case rate per 100,000 people in the previous week; the percentage of positive tests in that same period; and forecasts of cases per 100,000 in the next two weeks.

The final two are concerned with the local authority itself: Current and projected use of hospital beds, and current and projected use of ICU beds.

These final factors are one reason why some areas, including Falkirk, have stayed under higher restrictions despite lower rates of the virus.

In other areas, it looks as though the Scottish Government wants to see more sustained improvement in case rates – which hopefully will come about in time for the next review.

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