Scotland’s national clinical director has said Omicron is “definitely” on a “downward slope”, but urged caution over thinking the pandemic is in its final stages.

Asked if we are in the “endgame”, Professor Jason Leitch told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we’re in the endgame of Omicron. I’m afraid that’s not the answer you wanted.

“Nobody knows if we’re in the endgame of the whole pandemic. And anybody who does, I’m afraid it’s hope rather than reality.

“I hope we’re in the endgame, and the WHO are telling us still to be cautious – don’t drop your guard for surveillance of other variants that might come into your country or you might generate yourself.

“But we’re definitely in a downward slope of Omicron, which is terrific news.”

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Professor Leitch said the easing of restrictions should be gradual.

He said: “We’ve learned that closing fast or restricting fast serves you well. So, on the way into protections, it’s often better to go earlier than you think and harder than you think.

“On the way out the opposite, I’m afraid, is true. You should go slightly slower than you would hope to go and slightly more gradual.”

National Clinical director Jason Leitch

Prof Leitch said people are still being asked to be careful.

“So, we still want them to do the lateral flow tests before they leave home to meet other people, still get vaccinated, still wash your hands when you arrive at the Radio 4 studio in the morning or wherever you happen to be working.

“So all of those things still apply, but we’re hopeful that this can be a smooth and continuous removal of protections.”

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Professor Leitch was asked about suggestions that free lateral flow tests may come to an end due to the cost.

He said it is “too early” to decide, adding that the UK countries have discussed it, adding there has “certainly been no suggestion that in the near future they will be charged for”.

Prof Leitch said: “I think they are a crucial building block of our baseline, a bit like Test and Trace, Test and Protect for us in Scotland, the alcohol gels, the vaccinations, I think these are what we’re going to be left with post-Omicron.”