THE death rate from coronavirus will be lower in Scotland than the rest of the UK because lockdown measures were introduced at an earlier stage in the country’s ‘epidemic curve’, experts have said.

The spread of the virus in Scotland is believed to be lagging around six to seven days behind the UK hotspot in London.

It was the capital’s unexpectedly rapid transmission rates, with new cases appearing faster than they had in other countries, which led epidemiologists to pressure ministers into ramping up restrictions.

All pubs, restaurants and leisure venues were ordered to close on the same weekend across the whole of the UK as part of hardline social distancing measures, with all shops except pharmacies or food outlets suspending trading soon after.

The public, across the UK, have also been told to stay at home as much as possible, limit public transport use and avoid meeting friends or relatives unless they share the same household.

However, it is thought that the effect of these interventions will be more pronounced in Scotland.

Professor Jimmy Whitworth, an expert in international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The epidemic is at an earlier stage in Scotland than in England, certainly than London and the South-East which seems to have had the initial burst of cases.

“It is pretty clear when you look at the data for different countries that the earlier you introduce these measures the more effective they are, so in that respect if they were introduced in Scotland – or Scotland was part of them – at an earlier stage then it will have had more effect.

“Overall, you don’t get such high peaks in your case numbers and your deaths.”

The UK’s first known coronavirus cases were confirmed at the end of January in a pair of Chinese tourists holidaying in York, but Scotland did not report its first case, in a Tayside resident recently returned from Italy, until March 1.

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By this stage, parts of England were already experiencing sustained community transmission.

The latest figures show that there have been 60 deaths in Scotland, with a population of around 5.4 million, compared to 1,651 in England with a population of 56 million.

In Scotland, 1,993 people have tested positive for the virus to date compared to more than 22,000 in England.

Professor Mark Woolhouse, chair of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University’s Deanery of Population Health Sciences, said: “The epidemic in Scotland is approximately six or seven days behind the one in London in terms of the fraction of the population testing positive.

"The doubling rate – the length of time it takes for the number of cases to double – is comparable to that of London at the same stage.

“All that says that if we hadn’t got any intervention we appear to be following a somewhat similar epidemic curve to London, but we’re just six or seven days behind.

“But when the lockdown was implemented it was implemented not just in London, as we were anticipating, but across the whole country on the same day.

“It’s not that we think the lockdown measures have a dramatically different effect on transmission rates in Scotland than London, although there are some questions about urban versus rural.

"It’s simply those extra six or seven days.

“But if I’m correct, the per capita number of deaths in Scotland until the end of the lockdown ought to be lower.”

Prof Woolhouse stressed that he would still expect deaths in Scotland to "rise appreciably for at least another week", due to the time lapse between catching the virus and dying from it.

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The incubation period is estimated at around five days and, in cases where the infection is fatal, patients die on average 18 days after first showing symptoms.

It comes as Scotland's chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, stressed that the number of people testing positive for the new coronavirus strain - officially known as SARS-CoV-2 - was still rising "day by day" despite the lockdown.

Dr Calderwood said the increase in confirmed cases in Scotland, which has more than tripled from 584 a week ago, was not simply due to increased testing.

"The proportion of those tests which are positive is increasing day by day," said Dr Calderwood.

She added: “Obviously we don’t know how fast it would increase without these measures but I want to emphasise that despite what we’re doing the virus is still being transmitted in our communities.

"The only group we’re not seeing sustained transmission in are people under the age of 15, in common with other countries around the world.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that current figures for Scotland indicate that 6% of NHS staff are currently off sick either with symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, or because they were self-isolating due to potential exposure.

The Royal College of Physicians said on Monday that one in four hospital doctors in England is absent due to Covid-19

Ms Sturgeon said: “That number [6%] is relatively low and it’s important to be clear that we would expect that number to rise in the weeks to come, but it’s also important to note that we have begun testing key workers.

"As we continue to expand that capacity we will be able to get people back to work as quickly as possible.”

Antibody tests, which detect people who have already had the virus and should therefore be immune, are expected to be available in the UK within days.

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NHS leaders have criticised delays in rolling out tests to frontline medical staff, saying many were missing work needlessly due to harmless colds.

Ms Sturgeon also stressed that she does not believe that Scotland's statistics on coronavirus deaths are a "significant underestimate".

It follows updated Office for National Statistics (ONS) data for England and Wales which suggests that as much as 24% of deaths have gone unreported there because they occurred outside of hospital.

Ms Sturgeon said this was unlikely to be the case here since Health Protection Scotland records Covid-19 deaths as any occurring within 28 days of laboratory confirmation, regardless of where the person died.

However, she said work was ongoing to ensure that the figure for deaths was “accurate and robust”.

Dr Calderwood added that “if there is an underestimate this is not significant, because we do not have significant transmission in the community where people are becoming very unwell and not going to hospital.”