Categories
Coronavirus

COVID-19 antibody testing

Health boards have been advised by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) to focus on using coronavirus (COVID-19) antibody tests to improve understanding of the virus and in the clinical management of patients.

The CMO Dr Gregor Smith has written to all NHS boards outlining that as there is currently insufficient clinical evidence showing the degree of protection antibodies give, or the duration of any protection, the only clinically safe option is to assume no meaningful immunity from a positive result until evidence shows otherwise.

Currently antibody tests are used in Scotland for surveillance measures to provide population-level information on COVID-19 and these tests will continue to be used in this way. So far 4,431 antibody tests for surveillance purposes have been completed.

Dr Smith said:

“Having assessed the research available, there is currently insufficient clinical evidence to absolutely conclude that people who have recovered from COVID-19 are protected from either a second infection or from infecting others.

“Until such evidence exists the main public health benefits are for research purposes or in the clinical management of patients. The World Health Organisation and SAGE have warned there are potentially negative impacts on public health if individuals assume immunity from a positive result and adapt their behaviour in a way which could increase the risk of continued transmission.

“On this basis, advice to health boards is not to offer on-demand antibody testing.

“Our approach is being kept under ongoing review. If clinical evidence around immunity changes we will swiftly roll out a national antibody testing programme in order to realise the potential health, social and economic benefits this would offer, and are preparing now for that prospect.”

Background:

WHO advice on antibody tests

SAGE advice on antibody tests

The Scottish Government is currently investigating new research opportunities and is encouraging health boards to participate in the UK-wide SIREN study which will examine potential immunity in healthcare workers and inform our understanding of prevalence.

In total 4,431 antibody tests for surveillance purposes have been completed as of 19 June.

Categories
Business Coronavirus

Further route map detail announced

Indicative dates for Phase 2 and early Phase 3 measures announced to help planning.

Provisional dates for the relaxation of travel restrictions, restarting of the hospitality industry and reopening of hairdressers are among further route map measures announced today (Wednesday 24, June) by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Setting out indicative dates, the First Minister stressed that while sustained progress has been made to suppress coronavirus (COVID-19), the changes remain contingent on scientific and public health advice.

Physical distancing of 2 metres continues to be required in Scotland. The First Minister confirmed that the Scientific Advisory Group is providing advice on higher transmission risk settings and physical distancing and that she will provide a further update on 2 July, ahead of the proposed dates for re-opening hospitality.

Detailed sectoral guidance will be published ahead of indicative dates and the Scottish Government will join with the retail sector in a campaign to encourage the use of face coverings in all shops.

Indicative early Phase 3 dates announced today are intended to give businesses time to prepare for reopening while adhering to public health and physical distancing measures to protect workers and customers. Final decisions on moving into Phase 3 will be taken in line with the statutory three-weekly review cycle, due on 9 July.

Indicative Phase 2 dates:

• 3 July – Travel distance limit for leisure will be lifted
• 3 July – Self-catering holiday accommodation will be permitted, providing it requires no shared facilities between households
• 6 July – Outdoor hospitality can commence subject to the Scientific Advisory Group review

Indicative Phase 3 dates:

• 10 July – People can meet in extended groups outdoors, with physical distancing
• 10 July – Households can meet indoors with up to a maximum of two households, with physical distancing
• 13 July – Organised outdoor contact sport can resume for children and young people, subject to guidance
• 13 July – All dental practices begin to see registered patients for non-aerosol routine care, and work will begin to return aerosol generating procedures to practice safely
• 13 July – Increasing capacity within community optometry practices for emergency and essential eye care
• 13 July – Non-essential shops inside shopping centres can reopen, subject to the Scientific Advisory Group review
• 15 July – All childcare providers can open subject to individual provider arrangements
• 15 July – All holiday accommodation will be permitted
• 15 July – Indoor hospitality can reopen, subject to the Scientific Advisory Group review
• 15 July – Hairdressers and barbers can reopen with enhanced hygiene measures
• 15 July – Museums, galleries, cinemas, monuments, libraries will reopen with physical distancing and other measures, such as ticketing in advance

Announcing the route map changes, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:

“The sacrifices that have been made – and I know how hard and at times painful they have been – have suppressed the virus. They have also protected the NHS, and have undoubtedly saved a significant number of lives.

“They have also brought us to the position where we can now look ahead with a bit more clarity to our path out of lockdown, and I hope details announced today will provide people and businesses with more certainty in their forward planning.

“But let me be clear that each step on this path depends on us continuing to beat the virus back. That is why we must do everything in our power to avoid steps being reversed.

“The central point in all of this is the virus has not – and it will not – go away of its own accord. It will pose a real and significant threat to us for some time to come.

“Maintaining our progress also means all of us abiding by public health guidance. Wearing face coverings in enclosed spaces, avoiding crowded places, washing our hands and cleaning surfaces regularly, maintaining physical distancing, agreeing to immediately self-isolate and get a test if we have symptoms – all of these basic protections matter now more than ever as we all get out and about a bit more.”

Previously announced Phase 2 measures commencing Monday:

• Indoor (non-office) workplaces resume once relevant guidance is implemented. This includes: factories, warehouses, labs and research facilities. But excludes: indoor workplaces due to open in Phase 3 (e.g. nonessential offices and call-centres)
• Street-access retail can re-open once guidance is implemented. Interiors of shopping centres/malls remain closed for non-essential shops until Phase 3
• Outdoor markets can re-open once guidance is implemented
• Relaxation on restrictions on housing moves
• Outdoor sports courts can re-open
• Playgrounds can re-open
• Registration offices open for high priority tasks
• Marriages and civil partnerships allowed with minimal attendees, strictly outdoors only
• Zoos and garden attractions can open for local access only (broadly within 5 miles) until 3 July
Updated route map can be found here

Categories
Coronavirus Education

Free school meals extended

Additional £27.6 million to help feed pupils and other key groups.

Children eligible for free school meals will be among those who continue to be supported over the summer through a package of £27.6 million of additional funding from the Scottish Government.

The funding will ensure councils are able to continue the provision of free school meals during the summer holidays and other food provision to help low income families during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

The latest data from local authorities shows that around 175,000 children and young people are currently receiving free school meals – or vouchers or cash payments to buy meals.

The number of children receiving free school food has risen by 53,000 since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the impact of the pandemic on family incomes and financial circumstances.

The extra funding will also enable councils to continue to support a range of people who may be facing new or continuing barriers to accessing food including due to reduced income caused if they are asked to self-isolate through contact tracing – until the end of September.

This funding is in addition to the overall package of £30 million allocated to councils in March to provide free school meals and offer food provision to key groups during lockdown.

Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills John Swinney said:

“These are challenging times for families and economic uncertainty has added even more pressure on parents already dealing with the stress of this dire COVID-19 crisis.

“We want to ensure families are given the same support through the summer holidays as we provide in term time in recognition of this unprecedented situation. That is why free school meals provision is essential to support families, children and young people who need some extra help at this difficult time.

“This significant additional funding will allow councils to plan for the summer and to continue the existing provision, whether that be offering nutritious free meals for children or through more direct means allowing families to get food for their families. Councils will have the flexibility to ensure they are able to use this additional funding to put in place provision that meets local needs and circumstances.

“£15 million of this funding is being made available to ensure we continue supporting the range of households who have been or may experience difficulty in accessing or affording food during the pandemic. We know that people are under pressure just now as they cope with the impact of COVID-19 and this funding shows we are doing all we can to help them at this difficult time. This funding is additional to the £350 million we have already made available.”

Background

Since 24 March councils have provided the Scottish Government with data on the number of children receiving a free school meal through the provision of vouchers, direct payments, home deliveries and provision in educational or early years settings. 

Individuals who are unable to access or afford food and cannot get the help they need from family, friends or neighbours are encouraged to call the national assistance helpline. The free helpline number is 0800 111 4000, or can be contacted via a textphone on 0800 111 4114. The helpline is open Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.

Callers will be put through to speak to someone at their local council. They’ll be able to advise on what types of help are available. This might include:

  • food, if you’re not able to get the day-to-day food you need
  • medication, if you’re not able to pick up the prescriptions you need
  • access to local social work services
  • emotional support
  • contact with local volunteer groups

Categories
Coronavirus Education

£6.2 million Funding Boost for Dundee Schools

SNP government announces £50 million package to improve attainment.

MSP for Dundee City West Constituency, Joe FitzPatrick, has said pupils living in Dundee’s most deprived communities will benefit from targeted funding from the Attainment Scotland Fund to help close the poverty-related attainment gap.  

Dundee City Council will receive a £6,223,466 investment from the SNP Scottish Government to support pupils from deprived backgrounds.

To help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, schools and local authorities will have flexibility to redirect some of this funding from existing plans to best support the most vulnerable and disadvantaged families, with a continued focus on equity in education.

The £50 million package is in addition to the £250 million Pupil Equity Funding package announced in May for the next two years and an investment of £9 million to provide 25,000 laptops to assist pupils learning at home.

Commenting, SNP MSP Joe FitzPatrick said:

“In Government, the SNP has put closing the poverty-related attainment gap front and centre of its plans to improve education.

“This latest funding boost for Dundee demonstrates this Government’s ambition to transform our schools and ensure that every young person gets the chance to succeed in life, regardless of their background.

“The Education Secretary, John Swinney, has also handed councils the flexibility to use this funding to help respond to the coronavirus pandemic so no child gets left behind.

“There’s still a lot to do in reducing poverty and inequality in Scotland – but universal benefits like free school meals for our youngest pupils, free prescriptions and free higher education are helping keep more money in the pockets of hard working families here in Dundee.”

The Attainment Scotland Fund was established to support the Scottish Attainment Challenge in 2015.  This is a £750 million commitment over the course of this parliamentary term. The Attainment Scotland Fund is a targeted initiative focused on supporting pupils in the local authorities of Scotland with the highest concentrations of deprivation.

The nine ‘Challenge Authorities’ are Glasgow, Dundee, Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire, North Ayrshire, Clackmannanshire, North Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire and Renfrewshire.
Categories
Business Coronavirus

More support for small businesses

Grants extended to help more companies in need.

Small businesses which share properties but do not pay business rates are now eligible to apply for grants to help with the impact of COVID-19.

The extension to the Small Business Grant Fund will apply to firms occupying shared office spaces, business incubators or shared industrial units and who lease the space from a registered, rate-paying landlord. Separately, eligibility has also been extended to companies occupying multiple premises with a cumulative value of more than £51,000.

Eligible businesses will be able to apply to their local authority for grants of up to £10,000.

It has also been confirmed that the Small Business Grant and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant schemes will close for new applications on 10 July. Latest figures up to 2 June show that £824.541 million has been distributed to 72,622 businesses across Scotland through the schemes, but that new applications have slowed in recent weeks.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said:

“Our comprehensive package of business support is now worth more than £2.3 billion. Our programme is kept under constant review, and we are always looking for ways to extend eligibility to help more businesses. That is precisely what we are doing.

“New applications for the Small Business and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant schemes have slowed in recent weeks as large numbers of businesses have already applied. We are committed to ensuring every penny we receive from the UK Government for business support – and more – will be passed to businesses. It is essential that we do not allow funds to sit for too long in schemes that are attracting few applications, so we have decided to bring these to a close next month. That will mean that any remaining money can be re-routed to help businesses in other ways, as we have already started to do for the Pivotal Enterprise Resilience Fund.

“I would encourage the owners of any eligible small business which needs support to consider applying through their local authority during the next five weeks and before 10 July.”

Background

Further details on these grant schemes.

Applications for a Small Business Support Grant may now be made to the appropriate local authority from tenants that are a registered business or partnership, have a lease signed before 17 March 2020, employ at least one person and have a business bank account.

From 5 May, the Small Business and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants were extended to businesses with multiple properties. This included businesses with a number of properties whose cumulative rateable value exceeded £35,000 (making them ineligible for the Small Business Bonus Scheme, thereby preventing them from accessing the Small Business Grant) and whose individual rateable value does not exceed £18,000 (thereby preventing them from receiving a Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant). To date, the cumulative rateable value of all such properties held was capped at £51,000, but from 8 June, this is increased to £500,000.

Schedule 3.1 of the Scottish Government’s Summer Budget Revision confirms the budget for the Small Business and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants as £1.202 billion. 

Categories
Coronavirus

Updated advice for people shielding

Outdoor exercise can be taken from later this month.

People who are shielding are being advised that though they should continue to do so until at least the end of July, they can if they choose,  go outdoors to exercise from 18 June while maintaining strict physical distancing.

Those affected will receive letters from the Chief Medical Officer explaining that the decision on outdoor exercise has been taken after careful consideration by clinical advisors. Prevalence of COVID-19 has decreased and the evidence now shows the risk of outdoor infection is very low if people stay two metres apart. The exercise can be a run, wheel, walk or cycle but those shielding should not meet people from other households. 

In all other respects, the advice for those who have been advised to shield has not changed as there remains a risk of infection in indoor and crowded places where physical distancing may not be possible. However, the CMO’s letter also sets out that work is underway to develop a new approach which allows people to better understand their individual risk and make choices which are right for them. This will be made available over the summer.

The support currently in place for those who are shielding, in terms of free grocery boxes and priority access to online supermarket delivery slots, will continue throughout this time.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said:

“We understand that the challenges of shielding are enormous, and that those shielding want and need clarity about when they can start to lead a less restricted life. 

“Today’s announcement means that, should there be no increase in rates of transmission of the virus, people shielding can go outdoors for exercise from 18 June while maintaining physical distancing of two metres.   

“We know many people may feel anxious about these changes and we would like to reassure everyone who has been advised to shield that they will shortly be receiving a letter from the Chief Medical Officer outlining how they can stay safe when they go outside, should they choose to do so.

“The guidance will remain under review and I want to reassure those who are shielding that we will do what is right for Scotland and only make changes where we are confident that it is safe to do so.

“We are doing everything we can to get the advice right so that people can safely, and gradually, start to make choices that reflect their individual and local circumstances.”     

Background     

The Scottish Government wants to take into account the experience of people shielding as they update guidance so we can respond to issues which are important to them We have been carrying out research interviews with those in the shielding category since 29 April. Public Health Scotland also launched a short survey on experiences and attitudes to shielding on 3 June which runs until 14 June. People shielding and their carers are encouraged to take part at online.

Shielding support and contacts

Categories
Carers Coronavirus Social Security

Extra payment for carers to help through coronavirus

Eligible carers to get an additional £230.10.

In recognition of the additional pressure that unpaid carers are under at this time, the Scottish Government will be making a Coronavirus Carer’s Allowance Supplement payment later this month.

This one-off payment is in addition to the regular six monthly Carer’s Allowance Supplement. As a result, eligible carers will get a payment of at least £460.20. This will be paid from Friday 26 June.

As with the current supplement, carers will not need to do anything to get this extra payment as it will be paid automatically to people who were living in Scotland and in receipt of Carer’s Allowance on 13 April 2020 eligibility date. Social Security Scotland will write to eligible carers in advance.

Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People Shirley-Anne Somerville said:

“Carer’s Allowance Supplement was one of the first payments we introduced using our new social security powers. This was in recognition of the contribution that carers make to our society. They provide vital support to family, friends and neighbours.

“Coronavirus is putting even more demands on carers. It is hard emotionally – carers will inevitably be concerned about their own health, and that of the people they care for. However in many cases, it will also be difficult financially.

“The payment will benefit carers who are on low incomes and already have some of the most intense caring roles, providing at least 35 hours of unpaid care weekly to a disabled child or adult in receipt of higher level disability benefits.

“This extra payment is one way of providing some additional help  – and of acknowledging that we know that carers are doing even more right now. We thank them for that.”

Categories
Education Social Security

Parents In Dundee Encouraged To Apply For Best Start Grant

Joe FitzPatrick MSP for Dundee City West Constituency has encouraged parents of children aged four to five to apply for the SNP Government’s Best Start Grant.

A one-off £250 payment is currently open to eligible families, with a child who was born between 1st March 2015 and 29th February 2016, who will be starting primary school later this year (unless they have made different arrangements).

The School Age payment can be used for anything from a new pair of school shoes or arts and crafts materials for children.

The payment is part of the SNP Government’s Best Start Grant, a package of three payments for families in receipt of eligible benefits – including Universal Credit and Housing Benefit – to help at key stages in a child’s life.

Commenting, Joe FitzPatrick MSP said:

“Covering the costs of a child starting school can be tough on family finances, especially in the current climate.

“The SNP Government’s school age payment offers low income families, or those who receive support like Universal Credit, a £250 payment around the time children start at primary school.

“We’re absolutely determined that every child, regardless of circumstances, gets the best start in life. So in these unprecedented and difficult times, I’d encourage families across Dundee to check what other financial support they may be eligible for too – such as school clothing grants or free school meals.”

Visit mygov.scot or call 0800 182 2222 to find out more or apply.

If your child was born later than February 2016, you’ll be able to apply after May 2021.

If you get the School Age Payment, you’ll get £250 for each child you can get the payment for. The School Age Payment has not replaced the School Clothing Grant. The School Age Payment is a new payment and does not affect in any way payments of the School Clothing Grant. If you want to apply for both, you can.

Categories
Coronavirus Education

Safe return to schools and nurseries

Scientific advice behind re-opening published.

Education Secretary John Swinney has published a summary of the scientific advice behind the plans to re-open schools and Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) settings.

In agreement with councils, professional associations and parent representatives, all schools will return on 11 August while ELC settings such as nurseries and playgroups will open over the summer.

The plans are contingent on scientific and medical advice that it is safe to proceed and complementary public health measures, such as Test and Protect, being in place.

The paper highlights:

  • growing evidence that the susceptibility to clinical disease of younger children is lower than for adults
  • generally good evidence that the severity of disease in children is lower than in adults
  • the majority view of the Chief Medical Officer’s Advisory Group is that actions to support distancing guidance in schools where children are in indoor environments for extended periods of time would be appropriate, while a minority believed schools could operate without distancing

Mr Swinney today updated Parliament on the work to re-open schools and ELC settings. He said:

“School closures are considered to have a negative effect on all aspects of children and young people’s progress and development, as well as their wellbeing. That is why we are working to enable as many children and young people as possible to return to education and care settings at the earliest date it is safe to do so.

“The scientific evidence and advice is an important part of that decision, alongside consideration of the other harms caused by ongoing restrictions. That is why I have published a summary of the scientific evidence which has informed our discussions and decisions to date.

“The evidence around coronavirus in general, and that relating to children in particular, is continuing to evolve. Some aspects are not yet well understood – the science cannot in many cases provide us with definitive conclusions.

“The scientific advice that we have received so far leads us towards taking a cautious approach and we will continue to monitor the evidence and advice to inform decisions.”

Background

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scientific evidence on schools and ELC settings

More information on the Strategic Framework published last week is here: https://www.gov.scot/news/schools-to-re-open-in-august/

Categories
Coronavirus

Dundee Charities Eligible to Apply for Extra Support

Small charity premises now eligible for £10,000 grants.

Properties occupied by charities can now apply for the £10,000 Small Business Grant Scheme to help with pressures caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The extension of the scheme is expected to result in an additional £31 million being made available to more than 3,000 small properties occupied by charities – including day centres, workshops and halls. It will apply to properties which are in receipt of any Charitable Rates Relief or Sports Relief, but are otherwise eligible for the Small Business Bonus Scheme.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, said:

“Our package of business support is under constant review as we look for improvements that can be made to existing schemes, or any gaps we are able to fill.

“It had become clear that many charities which run small premises, such as day centres and halls, had been hit hard by loss of revenue during the pandemic. This is particularly pressing for small and medium-sized charities which deliver health and social care support, and are heavily reliant on income from their retail operations.

“In order to support these vital charities we have therefore taken the decision to open up the Small Business Grant Scheme to allow them to apply for grants of £10,000 on the first eligible property and £7,500 on any additional eligible properties.”

Background:

The Small Business Grant Scheme is administered by local authorities. Organisations can apply for the scheme through their local council.

Categories
Coronavirus Education Universities

Dundee’s Universities Set to Benefit from £75m Covid-19 Funding

One-off Scottish Government payment to help mitigate financial effects of COVID-19.

The Scottish Government has announced a one-off £75 million increase in funding for Scotland’s universities to ensure they can protect their world-leading research programmes against the financial impact of COVID-19.

The significant intervention will help secure the jobs and training needed to support ongoing and future research work, meaning institutions can concentrate fully on planning the long-term future of a sector so vital to the Scottish economy.

Universities will also be expected to adapt and use their own resources, as well as the packages of support for businesses provided by the UK Government, to counter the effects of the pandemic on research operations.

The new funding will replace lost research income, protect research jobs, and help universities focus more effort on the high priority research needed to fight the outbreak and to support society and the economy, post COVID-19.

Richard Lochhead, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, has now written to his UK Government counterpart Michelle Donelan, Minister of State for Universities, calling for a UK investment and support package for Higher Education (HE), including additional financial support for universities, to ensure they and their graduates can continue to play a key role in the UK’s economic and social recovery from the pandemic.

Scottish university income has been significantly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, most notably by a loss of international student income, cancelled conference bookings, and returned accommodation fees. Recent Scottish Funding Council (SFC) analysis indicated Scottish universities face a loss of around £72 million due to COVID-19 this academic year alone, with a collective operating deficit of between £384 million and £651 million forecast for next academic year.

The Scottish Government is working with the SFC and the sector to mitigate the current issues across the range of university activities including research, supporting teaching excellence and student well-being.

“Our world-renowned university research activities are under threat from COVID-19, from a loss of university income to the risk to jobs and investment.  That research is critical to Scotland’s future public health and prosperity. So we are investing now to protect our research sector’s excellence, with £75 million of additional funding, as we plan together for the future sustainability of Scotland’s society and economy as a whole.

“We are taking a partnership approach, talking to the universities and staff unions, as we build up our response. For the universities’ part, they are stepping up with a willingness to use part of this investment to support PhD students whose studies have been impacted by COVID-19.  

“Now we need the UK Government to join those efforts. So far, their main interventions have been focused on the HE sector south of the border. We need the UK Government to take a UK approach and join with Scottish universities and the Scottish Government to build a support package that will protect the sector from the impact of this virus.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP

The additional funding will be administered by the SFC.

“This is very welcome additional funding for research in Scotland.  We will work closely with the sector to ensure it helps universities continue with vital research, including the response to COVID-19, and contributions to our subsequent recovery.” 

SFC Chief Executive, Karen Watt

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s recognition of the role research and innovation will play in supporting business and industry and strengthening our post COVID-19 economy and society.

“The pace of this commitment, and the injection of confidence it will give the research community within the sector, is very welcome.

“We will work closely with Government and the Scottish Funding Council to ensure this resource has the most impact, including support for our PhD students, who are our pipeline of talent for future research and who have been adversely affected by the instability created by the pandemic.”

Universities Scotland Convenor, Professor Andrea Nolan

Background

The additional money is research capital funding. University research is classed as capital in the current 2020-21 Scottish budget.  The details of the allocation to individual universities will be subject to consultation with the sector by the Scottish Funding Council. 

A number of PhD students will have their work interrupted by, as examples, the closure of laboratories or the inability to pursue fieldwork owing to COVID-19.  This intervention will give universities additional resource to respond, for example, by offering financial support to a student to extend a project once their practical work can recommence.