Sturgeon holds crisis talks amid fears of new variant Covid

The First Minister will chair a Scottish Government Cabinet meeting on Saturday afternoon.

Sturgeon holds crisis talks amid fears of new variant Covid Getty Images
Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on.

Nicola Sturgeon has said “preventative action may be necessary” amid fears a new variant strain is accelerating the spread of coronavirus.

The First Minister took part in a four-nations call on Saturday and was set to discuss options with her ministers at a Cabinet meeting.

She is expected to give an update at a briefing scheduled for 5.30pm.

On Saturday afternoon, Boris Johnson cancelled Christmas for millions of people across London and south-east England.

The Prime Minister announced that from Sunday areas in the South East currently in Tier 3 will be moved into a new Tier 4 – effectively returning to the lockdown rules of November.

The rest of England will also see the Christmas “bubble” policy – allowing up to three households to meet up over the holiday period – severely curtailed, applying on Christmas Day only.

The move came after scientists on the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NervTag) concluded that the mutant strain identified by Public Health England – known as VUI2020/01 – was spreading more quickly.

On Friday, health secretary Jeane Freeman admitted the Scottish Government could not rule out a post-Christmas lockdown.

It came after Northern Ireland joined Wales in agreeing to a post-holiday shutdown following a spike in cases.

Former UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt warned the situation was on a “knife-edge” with infections rising and hospital admissions on the increase.

Prior to the Prime Minister’s briefing, Sturgeon tweeted: “Following a four nations Covid call earlier, I’ll chair a Scottish Government Cabinet meeting this afternoon to discuss emerging evidence on [the] new variant.

“Cases [are] currently at [a] lower level in Scotland than [the rest of the] UK – but preventative action may be necessary to stop [the] faster spreading strain taking hold.”

Scotland has the lowest case rate in the UK, with 112.6 cases per 100,000 of the population.

This compares to 571.7 in Wales, 219.6 in England and 174.9 in Northern Ireland.

Sturgeon told the daily coronavirus briefing on Tuesday that nine cases of the new Covid-19 variant had been identified in Scotland.

All of the cases of the new strain were found in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board region.

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said the UK had now informed the World Health Organisation (WHO) that it had concluded the mutant strain could spread more quickly.

“As announced on Monday, the UK has identified a new variant of Covid-19 through Public Health England’s genomic surveillance,” he said in a statement.

“As a result of the rapid spread of the new variant, preliminary modelling data and rapidly rising incidence rates in the South East, the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) now consider that the new strain can spread more quickly.

“We have alerted the World Health Organisation and are continuing to analyse the available data to improve our understanding.

“There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is under way to confirm this.

“Given this latest development it is now more vital than ever that the public continue to take action in their area to reduce transmission.”