All patients over 70 who are admitted to hospital for any reason will now be tested for Covid-19, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
The First Minister said they would be tested on admission to hospital and every four days throughout their stay.
Speaking at her daily media briefing in Edinburgh, she said the move would “help us identify if the virus is being transmitted in the hospital and how and where.”
Her intervention came as Jeane Freeman, the SNP Health Minister, disclosed that half of Scotland’s care homes have now had a suspected or confirmed case.
She said further measures are being introduced to protect residents and staff, along with “top-up and emergency provision” of personal protective equipment from the Scottish Government.
But Matt Hancock, her UK Government counterpart, went further by announcing that all care home residents and staff in England are to be eligible for coronavirus testing, regardless of whether they have symptoms.
One of the UK’s most eminent microbiologists told a Holyrood inquiry that the coronavirus infection rate could be at least 10 times higher in care homes than the community.
Prof Hugh Pennington the reproduction rate – the average number of people each carrier passes the virus to – could be 10 in homes. The Scottish Government estimates it is between 0.6 and one across the country.
He also urged the UK Government to “test, test, test” to eradicate the virus and warned he would not bet on an effective vaccine being found soon.
Ms Sturgeon told her briefing she did not recognise the 10 estimate for the reproduction rate but there had been “steady progress on increasing testing capacity” over the past month and this had already been expanded to people in “priority” areas.
The First Minister said NHS boards were now being asked to test everyone over 70 who was admitted to hospital for any reason.
She said: “Although we don’t usually test people without symptoms because the test is not totally reliable in those cases, we do think that there could be a benefit in testing older people, both on their admission to hospital and at intervals thereafter.”
Tests are being made available to people in hospital with symptoms of Covid-19 and all those in intensive care, care homes residents who have symptoms and those who are being admitted.
Ms Freeman told parliament that 538 care homes have notified the Care Inspectorate of at least one suspected case of Covid-19. She said 384 (35 per cent) of care homes had a current outbreak.
Earlier, Prof Pennington told Holyrood’s health committee a comprehensive testing regime should be put in place by the SNP Government to protect care homes and “keep the damn thing out”.
He said the care home infection rate could be much higher than in the rest of the population due to an emphasis on social interaction before the lockdown.
The virus could still be “seen off by Christmas” through social distancing, testing and contact tracing, he said. He also played down fears of the country being hit by a second wave of Covid-19 cases once the lockdown is lifted.