Army called in to boost Scotland’s vaccine rollout

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Armed Forces  - UK MINISTRY OF DEFENCE /REUTERS
Armed Forces - UK MINISTRY OF DEFENCE /REUTERS

More British troops will be deployed to help speed up Scotland’s vaccine rollout as a new surge in cases casts further doubt over plans to ease restrictions across the mainland this month.

More than 60 Armed Forces personnel will be sent to help administer doses in Lothian and Lanarkshire - two areas which have been hit by outbreaks fuelled by the more transmissible Indian variant of Covid-19.

Much of the Central Belt and Dundee last week saw a planned journey into Level 1 from Saturday cancelled, with Nicola Sturgeon warning on Friday that the country is at a "critical juncture" after cases tripled in a month.

It had been hoped that Scotland would move to Level 0 restrictions on June 28 - a week later than the mass relaxation that is planned for England.

However, at her coronavirus briefing, the First Minister suggested the country was currently off course to meet the milestone.

While she refused to rule out a return to near normality within weeks, she said the vaccination programme would be needed to "pull us back on track".

On Friday, 992 new cases were reported in Scotland - the highest daily figure since mid-February.

The percentage of those tested receiving a positive result rose to 3.9 per cent, close to the five per cent threshold, above which the virus is no longer considered to be under control.

A military team of 42 personnel will be sent to the Edinburgh area to help accelerate the vaccine rollout, with a further 21 being sent to Lanarkshire.

"We don't know what's going to happen between now and the 28th of June," Ms Sturgeon said. "We may see the vaccination effect gather momentum and pull us back on track. I don't know that right now.

"But what I do know is we all keep doing the right things, if we keep getting vaccinated, then we've got more chance of getting back on track before then."

She urged the public to remain cautious on Saturday when 15 council areas will move down to Level 1, meaning looser rules in hospitality venues and some businesses such as funfairs and soft play areas can open for the first time in months.

Meanwhile, Glasgow will move into Level 2, joining 13 other areas which have been held there, meaning pubs and restaurants can serve alcohol indoors and people in Scotland's largest city will be permitted to visit other homes for the first time in eight months. Most island communities will enter Level 0.

Despite the increase in cases and two new deaths being recorded on Friday, Scottish Government modelling suggests the number of virus fatalities over the next month will remain "very low" with the most vulnerable having already been offered both vaccines.

Ms Sturgeon said there are "strong indications that vaccines are weakening the link between rising cases and hospitalisations", but warned that hospital admissions were still rising.

Across Scotland, there were 116 people in hospital on Thursday with recently confirmed Covid-19, up six from the day before, with eight patients in intensive care.

Most of those in hospital are aged under 50, suggesting that vaccines are effectively protecting the vast majority of more vulnerable people who have received two doses.

More than 99 per cent of Scots aged 70 or over have received both doses, while around nine out of 10 over-60s have been given two jabs.

Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, said that a few months ago 1,000 new daily cases would have meant roughly 100 new hospitalisations within a fortnight.

He said current data suggested that the number requiring hospital care would now be around 50, but warned this could still lead to pressure on the NHS.

Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, said that the military deployment would "ensure an acceleration of jabs into arms".

He added: "There is much to be hopeful about in the fight against Covid thanks to the UK Government procuring and paying for millions of vaccine doses for people in all parts of the UK and the dedication and professionalism of the NHS and our military."