SCOTLAND could take a different approach than the rest of the UK on exiting the coronavirus lockdown, a Scottish Government adviser suggested yesterday.

National clinical director Jason Leitch said any action following the peak of the virus – which he stressed would be reached over a prolonged period – would be tried at a “four-country level” when appropriate.

But he added: “You might have a scenario in a few weeks or months where we would do that differently.”

He also said the shielded group of vulnerable people, of which there are 140,000 in Scotland, are likely to be in lockdown for at least three months – which may be after restrictions are lifted on the rest of the population.

His comments in a BBC Radio Scotland interview yesterday came as the latest figures showed the death toll from Covid-19 has reached nearly 10,000 across the UK, with 917 more deaths bringing the total to 9875.

In Scotland, the number of deaths increased by 47 to reach 542.

Delivering the UK Government’s daily briefing yesterday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said it would be wrong to speculate about when the lockdown restrictions will be lifted.

She said: “When it comes to the long-term situation none of us can stand here – and it would be wrong for us to do this – and speculate in terms of when restrictions might move and when they will be lifted.

“This Government, and rightly so, is following the scientific advice through, which meets Sage [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] twice a week to look at the type of measures and approaches that we are taking as a Government.”

Patel, who was delivering the briefing for the first time since the coronavirus crisis began three weeks ago, has been criticised for a failure to appear in public.

The SNP’s shadow home secretary, Joanna Cherry, highlighted that Patel had refused to appear at a Commons Select Committee to discuss coronavirus four times since January, adding the Home Secretary’s most notable contribution to the pandemic “has been her public absence”.

During the briefing Patel was asked where she had been for the past three weeks. She answered: “I have actually been in the Home Office working virtually every single day, seven days a week, three days a week in the Home Office actually, on a range of areas, policy areas particularly relating to this pandemic.”

In response to whether any lockdown exit strategy would depend on the development of a vaccine, NHS England medical director Professor Stephen Powis said that scientific research has progressed very quickly, but stressed the UK is “still in round one” of the fight against coronavirus.

He said: “A vaccine is clearly an important part of any long-term management of this virus, so vaccine development is under way ... we need to make sure they are safe and effective, and then of course they need to be manufactured and deployed.

“Vaccines are not the only component of an exit strategy, I wouldn’t discount drug treatments.”

But he added: “I don’t think we can emphasise enough that we’re still in round one here, we’re still fighting the virus very early on.

“What’s absolutely critical at the moment is that we maintain social distancing, because any strategy will require us to get on top of this virus.”

A public health expert yesterday urged the Scottish Government to set out how it plans to ease the coronavirus lockdown to “alleviate the pressure people are feeling”.

Professor Linda Bauld, from Edinburgh University, said being forced to remain at home and unable to see family and friends, as well as a deluge of negatives stories in the news and on social media, were taking a toll on people’s mental health.

She said: “I think we need to start talking about what measures might look like. We’re not going back to normal – I don’t think we’ll ever fully go back to normal – but something just to alleviate the pressure that people are feeling, particularly in a time like this when it’s a holiday and people are not able to see their families.”

However, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was too early for planning an “end game” to the lockdown, saying there was not enough evidence to do so without risking “disastrous effects”.

She said she wanted the country to return to normal, but would not allow “impatience ... to do the damage we’ve been trying to prevent”.

Downing Street said yesterday the Prime Minister was continuing to make “very good progress” following his release from intensive care on Thursday.

Meanwhile, a vaccine for coronavirus could be ready as soon as September, according to Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at Oxford University. Gilbert said she was “80% confident” her team’s vaccine would work, with human trials due to begin in the next fortnight.

SNP MP Pete Wishart has renewed calls for the UK Government to support EU citizens and ensure their rights are not impacted by Covid-19.

Wishart wrote to the Home Secretary calling for action, including an extension to the deadline to apply for the EU settlement scheme.

He said: “Around 600,000 EU nationals have still to apply for settled status in the UK and those that are currently applying are finding a number of delays and difficulties.”

Funding has been diverted towards coastal businesses and organisations around Scotland to help them weather the Covid-19 storm.

The £7.2 million Scottish Crown Estate money, which is normally used for community projects, will be divided between the 26 local authorities with coastlines.

Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “We are enabling local authorities to directly support coastal businesses, including third sector organisations, facing the full force of this economic shock.”

SNP MP Alyn Smith has welcomed clarification from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) on pet care during pandemic.

Daniella Dos Santos, the BVA president, has reemphasised there is no evidence that animals can pass the disease to humans.

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