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DR TIM ALLISON: I’ll go on about Covid until it’s just another virus

By Dr Tim Allison

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Dr Tim Allison, director of public health for NHS Highland.
Dr Tim Allison, director of public health for NHS Highland.

“He’s not still writing about Covid!” you might say as you read this. There are so many other things going on now including the rising cost of living and the impact of the war in Ukraine. So why am I continuing to write about Covid?

I wish I didn’t need to write about the virus and pandemic any more, but sadly it is still with us.

There are far fewer tests for Covid being done now compared with earlier in the year. However, we know from national research and from studying levels of the virus in sewage that Covid rates are at best levelled off and are most likely rising.

If everyone in Scotland were tested for Covid we estimate that around one in 45 people would test positive.

We are also seeing an increase in the number of people in hospital who are testing positive for Covid.

Most of these people are admitted to hospital for another reason and Covid is not the cause of their admission, but it is important that we take measures to stop the virus spreading in hospitals.

Winter is the peak time for lots of illnesses, especially ones that affect the chest and breathing. Rates of influenza increase in the winter, and we have seen Covid follow a similar pattern. People spend more time indoors in winter; there is much closer contact and much less ventilation than in the summer. So, it is natural that diseases which spread through the air will pass between people more in the winter.

Viruses can spread quickly at any time of year if they mutate and change and when this happens, they are likely to be more harmful and more infectious.

Covid has gone through a series of changes and mutations since it first reached us. There is always a risk of further new variants.

We do not have information to suggest that one will affect us this winter, but we remain prepared to identify and tackle new variants should they appear.

What we need to do to keep Covid under control is little different from the messages that have been going out all through the pandemic. They are also important messages for keeping well during the winter and protecting ourselves from a wide range of infections.

Vaccination against Covid and influenza is crucial.

It has been great to see how local people have been keen to get vaccinated and I would encourage everyone to take up the offer of vaccination when it arrives.

We have had some problems with appointments, and I am sorry for the occasions when things have not gone right, but we are working to give everyone eligible the opportunity for local vaccination.

Other ways to keep well include good ventilation, hand washing, use of tissues for coughing and sneezing and staying at home when we are ill.

I hope that soon there will be no longer a need to write about Covid and that it will just be one of many winter viruses. But that is still some way off.

Dr Tim Allison is NHS Highland’s director of public health and policy.

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