SCOTLAND should be pursuing a distinct devolved approach from the rest of the UK in combatting the coronavirus pandemic, according to one of the world’s leading public health specialists.

Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at Edinburgh University’s medical school, made the call as official figures released yesterday revealed the number of coronavirus deaths in Scotland has risen to 22.

The number increased by six from Tuesday’s total of 16, with a further 51 people 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.

In a tweet yesterday Sridhar appeared to raise concerns about Scottish Government’s policy being too aligned with the strategy being followed in the rest of the UK.

Directing her post to the First Minister and Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood, she wrote: “Scotland has lower population density and fewer cases than rest of the UK. We need devolved strategy based on mass testing, tracing and two week quarantine for virus carriers. What London requires will be different than what Scottish Highlands requires.”

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Earlier, Nicola Sturgeon announced the Scottish Government is setting up its own expert advisory group to help in the Covid-19 battle.

She 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.

She said the new advisory body is being set up to give “the fullest possible understanding of exactly how the virus is spreading in Scotland”.

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During a media briefing at the Scottish Government’s HQ yesterday afternoon, the First Minister 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.

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.

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“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.”

To date, the UK and Scottish Government have broadly followed a similar approach to tackling the virus with effective lockdowns and school closures announced at the same time.

But despite World Health Organisation’s recommendations mass surveillance testing is not being carried out in either Scotland nor the rest of the UK. Instead, only people who fall ill and are taken to hospital are routinely tested for the virus. Health Secretary Jeane Freeman yesterday said NHS boards are now being asked to prioritise testing health care staff who have a family member who has fallen ill.

The move would mean that where the household member tests negative, the health or social care staff member will not have to isolate for 14 days and can return to work.

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The WHO gives two main reasons for testing people - to diagnose them individually, and to try to understand how far the virus has spread in the wider population. Critics have said radical social distancing measures, including working from home and school closures, should have begun earlier as was the case in Ireland.

In other developments work has begun on boosting NHS capacity to deal with the pandemic by turning London’s ExCel Centre in the Docklands into a makeshift field hospital capable of handling up to 4000 patients.

NHS medics will treat coronavirus patients at the facility, which will be known as the Nightingale Hospital.

London City Airport suspended all commercial and private flights from last night until the end of April.

The airport said in a statement: “Following the Government’s latest instructions in response to the coronavirus outbreak, we have made the difficult but necessary decision to temporarily suspend all commercial and private flights from the airport.

“At this point in this fast moving and unprecedented situation, we think this is the responsible thing to do for the safety and well-being of our staff, passengers and everyone associated with the airport.”