No need to panic over coronavirus, public health minister assures Scots

Scotland’s public health minister has said there is no need for people to panic about coronavirus as he visited one of the country’s two testing laboratories.

Joe FitzPatrick said there is no current evidence it is necessary for people in Scotland to wear masks to protect against the strain of the virus known as Covid-19.

Screening laboratories in Glasgow and Edinburgh have tested 202 possible cases since testing began in Scotland on Monday February 10, with all proving negative.

Coronavirus testing laboratory
Coronavirus testing laboratory

Combined with the previous tests at the Public Health England facility in Colindale, London, 290 tests from Scotland have been carried out since the outbreak began, with none coming back positive.

At the laboratory at Glasgow Royal Infirmary (GRI), results can be ready in around four hours in the majority of cases, compared to 24-48 hours when they had to be sent to England.

Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick watched the testing process during a visit to the laboratory at GRI on Wednesday.

He said although it is likely there will be a case of coronavirus in Scotland, the country is well prepared to deal with the situation.

“There is no need for people to be panicked,” Mr FitzPatrick said.

“We are clear that this is a serious threat that we are taking seriously and we’re preparing for worst case scenarios but right now the risk in Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, remains low so there’s no evidence to suggest that people should be walking around Scotland wearing face masks at this time.

“It’s really important to recognise that our NHS is very well prepared for this, we’ve got experience dealing with similar situations so right across Scotland the NHS and the Government are prepared.”

He added: “Although all Scottish tests have so far been negative, we are prepared for the high likelihood that we will also see a positive case.

“We have a proven track record of dealing with challenging health issues and have been preparing for this possibility since the beginning of the outbreak.”

Coronavirus testing laboratory
Coronavirus testing laboratory

When a clinician suspects a new coronavirus infection they take nose, throat and deeper respiratory samples, and send them to the facilities at the GRI and Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

The GRI lab processes around 75% of the tests from Scotland.

Professor Rory Gunson, clinical lead at the West of Scotland Specialist Virology Centre, said: “The roll-out of the Scottish-based diagnostic service for the new coronavirus is the outcome of an exciting collaboration between Scottish laboratories and colleagues at Public Health England.

“Its implementation has reduced the testing time from days to just a few hours.

“This service development will help reduce the anxiety of patients who may be worried they have the virus, will aid the management of suspected cases and will enhance the national public health response to this emerging virus.”

The latest figures show as of Tuesday afternoon, 4,916 people in total have been tested for Covid-19 in the UK, with nine coming back positive.

The death toll from the virus in mainland China rose to 2,004 on Wednesday as Chinese officials announced a further 136 deaths, up from 98 in the previous 24 hours.