A SENIOR Forth Valley health official has urged calmness and stressed the need to follow the guidelines set out by the government in order to curb the spread of coronavirus throughout the community.

Dr Graham Foster, director of public health and strategic planning, believes that a sense of perspective and a strict abiding of the rules will slow the spreading of the virus, also known as Covid-19, while allowing health experts to tackle it before it peaks.

He told the Advertiser: "We have 10 cases in Forth Valley, so it is here, but we have 10 cases and a population of 300,000 so the first message is we need people to be calm and sensible.

"If you're sitting next to someone on the bus and they are coughing, overwhelming chances are they are probably just coughing."

The UK had been in the "contain" phase of its response, but it was announced last Thursday, March 12, that the UK would move into the "delay" phase.

Dr Foster said: "It's a progressive strategy which makes sense because you need the right measures at the right time to get the most control.

"I might know about 10 cases in Forth Valley, but there might be a few more cases I don't know about, [so] the value of me putting effort into containing every single new case gets much less and instead of trying to focus on a small number of cases we shift the message to speak to the whole population.

"The new message is if you get the onset of the symptoms of early coronavirus infection, please go home, isolate for seven days and don't spread to other people.

"We need everyone to share the responsibility for looking out for symptoms – if you get symptoms just stay at home."

As of today, Monday, March 16, Forth Valley had 10 confirmed cases. However, Dr Foster is realistic and knows that number will increase.

He said: "We can't isolate Forth Valley from the rest of the world so we have to accept that over the next few weeks there will be a steady increase in the number of cases in the community.

"The good news is, for most people, this is just a mild virus: We're going to get a bit of a cold; it's going to be kind of an inconvenience, and at the end of the day we'll have had coronavirus.

"Children sail right through it, most children are so mildly affected they don’t even know they've got it.

"We don't need to worry about children, but at the other extreme, older people and people with underlying health conditions seem to do rather badly.

"It's a disease of the lungs; if you haven't got a lot of lung capacity or young, healthy lungs, it seems to affect those people."

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The delay phase set out by the government is intended to ensure that as small a number of people need to go to hospital at the one time to ease the pressure on medical facilities and Dr Foster agrees this is the best way to fight the virus.

He said: "If we can put some controls in place to make this spread through the population slowly then we'll manage.

"If we get this thing to affect our elderly population over, say, six months instead of over four weeks, then we'll have much more ability to cope and the hospitals won't get overwhelmed.

"That's what the strategy is just now – it's about delaying spread through the population."

Dr Foster explained that during the delay phase there is no need at the moment to close schools or put older people into isolation as the earlier this happens, the longer it would have to be sustained which creates even more problems.

"There's a lot of debate about closing schools," he said. "But if we close schools the worry is we put much more children in contact with their grandparents and their elderly relatives.

"Carrying on as normal is the best thing to do just now to keep the population safe and there is good science to support that.

"What we can control is how we catch it, how much health service support we've got for people at the time they catch it, and try and control the number of people who get it at a time so the health service doesn't get overwhelmed.

"Italy is the thing we're trying to avoid happening. What we're trying to do is get a slow spread, keep it away from vulnerable people, and the most effective way to do that is to go back to the seven-day message."

The steps being repeated by the Scottish Government was reiterated by Dr Foster and he believes following that message is best practice for everyone.

He said: "If you get the symptoms, you need to self-isolate.

"The whole strategy is protecting the elderly, protecting the vulnerable, and the way we do that is by slowing the spread so that less people get ill at the same time so that we can cope, help those people and support them.

"Even the vast majority of elderly will be fine – it's an increased risk, not a guaranteed death sentence."

Dr Foster predicts the peak will arrive at around week six or week seven. He pointed to China and South Korea, where he says outbreaks have followed a very standard curve, and added: "There's no reason to suppose it will do something radically different."

He continued: "Whilst I can't tell you exact numbers, what I can tell you is I expect it to behave like previous pandemics. It just seems to behave like a new virus coming into the community and we know how to manage that."

Visit nhsinform.scot/ for more information regarding Covid-19