BORIS Johnson’s plan to end Covid isolation rules in England this month is a risk that could particularly impact the elderly and people in areas of deprivation, according to an epidemiology expert of Edinburgh University.

The strain on hospitals is also likely to increase with a rise in infections, Professor Rowland Kao has warned.

Johnson announced last week that he intends to lift the legal requirement in England to self-isolate by the end of February, following the English schools’ half-term holiday. He had previously planned to lift it by the end of March – an announcement that was criticised as premature while cases in the UK still run high.

However, in a surprise statement last week amidst continued pressure and anger over the Downing Street parties that appear to have broken the Prime Minister’s own Covid safety rules, he said he aimed to lift the restriction even sooner.

Professor Kao is chair of veterinary epidemiology and data science at the University of Edinburgh. He called the move “a gamble”, and said: “There is obviously an element of risk associated with this. Isolation is probably the single biggest thing we do to keep the number of cases down, so by releasing it we are releasing the single most important thing for keeping vulnerable people from getting infected and for keeping infections out of hospitals.”

He added that while the numbers of those suffering severe illness through Covid-19 had fallen, it did not mean the pandemic was over, and pointed out that only a few weeks ago in January one of the biggest problems was the high levels NHS staff off work because of infection.

“That could happen again if there are increased numbers of infections,” he warned. “A real consideration is how many infections in hospitals might be caused, how much strain would you put there, and how many other things might you have to put off. Those are the risks you really need to think about and that is why it is a bit of gamble.”

He said it was probable there would be increased numbers of infected people from England visiting Scotland but it was unclear whether they would be in sufficient numbers to make a difference.

However, he said it could add to the strains being felt in Scotland and could also have behavioural implications.

“There may be pressure over here, especially amongst certain groups to do the same thing,” Kao added.

While infection rates in Scotland have flattened since January, he said rates in deprived areas were still higher than the average: “There is some risk that what will happen is things will continue to go down in less deprived areas but may go up again in more deprived areas where we are also getting more of the severe illnesses.”

“They are the ones that are going to have the most pressure if they feel ill. If we remove the requirement for isolation and make it a personal choice, then pressure from employers to stay in work starts to come into play,” he said.

The elderly could also be affected as they had been given their booster vaccinations earlier, before the rest of the population.

“We may start to see more infections there, so that is something that is worth keeping an eye out for,” said Professor Kao.

READ MORE: Scottish expert cautions against lifting Covid isolation rules now

He added that while there is reason to be “very positive” about where Scotland is now in terms of the pandemic, there is still a need to be cautious.

“It is the wrong time to suddenly say everything is okay,” he said.

It comes as Scotland recorded 11 coronavirus-linked deaths and 7341 new cases on Friday. The total number of people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 has risen to 10,496. There were 902 people in hospital on Thursday with recently confirmed cases of Covid-19, down two on the previous day, with 21 in intensive care, an increase of two.

On Thursday, 10 confirmed Covid-19 patients had been in intensive care longer than 28 days.