Emergency laws could be introduced in Scotland to support efforts to tackle a coronavirus epidemic, the Health Secretary has said.
Jeane Freeman told the Scottish Parliament there will be additional powers allowing the Scottish Government to take “extraordinary” action, such as making vaccinations compulsory for healthcare workers.
The emergency legislation, which is expected to be passed in Westminster later this month, will also waive some regulations to make it easier for former NHS Scotland staff to return to their old jobs to ease the pressure on the health service.
With Scotland’s chief medical officer forecasting between 50% and 80% of the population could become infected by the virus, Ms Freeman said the new powers reflected the “extreme seriousness of the challenge we now face”.
She told MSPs: “The emergency legislation will, for example, allow temporary lifting of some requirements of registration to allow former NHS staff to return to work should they be needed and should they wish.
“The Bill will also enable us to require the mandatory vaccinations for health and social care workers – the flu vaccine – if we consider that the spread of the virus may continue into next year’s flu season.
“Given the projections of staff absences and the pressure on the NHS, we may wish to do all we can to protect both the workforce and patients.”
She added: “None of these proposals are being made lightly; in taking these new powers we will very carefully consider if they need to be used, and when and how they are used.
“Importantly, the Bill will contain a sunset clause to end the existence of these emergency powers after a set period or when the UK chief medical officers declare there is no longer an emergency.”
Ms Freeman said the new measures – including “potentially extraordinary social-distancing measures, self-isolation and restriction on public events” – would only be used if evidence showed an acceptable balance “between effectiveness slowing the spread and the impact on, for example, the economy.”
Update on #coronavirus testing
As of 2pm today, a total of 915 Scottish tests have concluded:
914 confirmed negative1 positive
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) March 3, 2020
Latest figures show 915 coronavirus tests have been completed as of 2pm on Tuesday, an increase of 100 from Monday, with only one confirmed case so far in Scotland.
Investigations into every person the infected coronavirus patient from Tayside has had contact with since returning from outside the UK have now been completed, Ms Freeman revealed.
Reiterating the importance of good personal hygiene practices – such as regularly washing hands and catching coughs and sneezes in tissues – to slowing the spread of the disease, Ms Freeman added: “We do expect more cases but for the majority of those affected the impact and symptoms will be mild.
“Our contain, delay and mitigate approach and the public have a critical role to help us, by following those straightforward personal hygiene messages.”