Sturgeon: Scotland needs to get some normality back

First Minister hints that some lockdown restrictions could be relaxed next week.

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Nicola Sturgeon has hinted that some lockdown restrictions could be eased next week.

Since schools and businesses were shut down and ‘stay at home’ advice came into force eight weeks ago, the only change has been to allow people outside to exercise more than once a day.

The First Minister said Scots “need to get some normality back” and added that “minor changes” could be announced next week.

But she insisted the Scottish Government would follow the evidence and scientific advice.

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In England, restrictions were significantly relaxed this week, with people being encouraged to return to work if possible.

Speaking at her daily briefing in Edinburgh, Sturgeon said: “We can’t live like this forever, so we need to get some normality back as we continue to suppress the virus.”

She added: “Even when we can’t yet give firm dates on when things will open up again, at least we will seek to share with you the order of priority and further phasing.

“Next week I will share with you more information on the assessments we are making and the range of options we are now looking at, and also any further minor changes we might make in the short term.”

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Sturgeon stressed any easing of the rules would be done “on a very careful and gradual basis”.

The First Minister said: “When we know lives are at stake, and we have learned that over every day over these past seven or eight weeks as I have stood up up here day in and day out, and read out the numbers of people who have died, we do know that lives are at stake with this virus.

“For as long as that continues to be the case I am going to continue to err on the side of caution, err on the side of saving lives and reducing the number of people who might die unnecessarily.”

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Sturgeon: Omicron variant may lead to further Covid restrictions

The First Minister also said it is 'likely' cases of the new strain of coronavirus will be detected in Scotland.

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Sturgeon said it is 'likely' Scotland will see cases of the new variant.

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Nicola Sturgeon has said it would be “foolish to 100% rule out” any further Covid restrictions ahead of the festive season amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

The First Minister spoke out as new travel restrictions were imposed by the UK Government after two cases of the new Covid-19 strain were confirmed in England.

Scotland will also impose the travel restrictions, which will see all passengers arriving in the UK required to take a PCR test and remain in isolation until they receive a negative result. The rule will apply to everyone, regardless of their vaccination status.

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Speaking to STV News on Sunday, Sturgeon said: “I really hope we don’t have to reintroduce any further restrictions on people’s ability to live life freely, in particularly on the run-up to the festive season.

“We had a horrible situation last year over the festive season where people were really restricted.

“We all want a much more normal Christmas but we also want a safe Christmas and we want a brighter new year as well, so I hope none of that will be necessary.

“However it’s a foolish leader – a really foolish leader – who stands in the face of a pandemic of an infectious and mutating virus and says that they can absolutely 100% rule anything out because that would be putting the desire to be popular ahead of the duty to keep the country safe.

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“My duty, one I take very seriously, is to do what is required to keep the country safe.

‘It’s a foolish leader – a really foolish leader – who stands in the face of a pandemic of an infectious and mutating virus and says that they can absolutely 100% rule anything out because that would be putting the desire to be popular ahead of the duty to keep the country safe.’

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

“I hope in the days to come, the news about this new variant will prove to be less negative and pessimistic as it has appeared over these past couple of days but we will have to wait and see.”

On Saturday, the Prime Minister warned the strain could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines as he announced a strengthening of England’s rules after the infections were identified in Nottingham and Essex.

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The Prime Minister warned the strain could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

Sturgeon added: “There have been no cases identified in Scotland so far and as far as I’m aware we have stepped up our surveillance and are making sure we are monitoring this and being very, very vigilant.

“I think it is likely, not definite and hopefully I’m wrong about this, but it’s likely we will see cases in Scotland.

“What I’m asking people across Scotland to do right now, on a precautionary basis, is behave as if this new variant is already here and circulating potentially amongst us.”


Tens of thousands of homes remain without power in wake of Storm Arwen

The extreme weather event claimed three lives as it swept across the UK including the death of an Aberdeenshire man.

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Tens of thousands of homes in Scotland are still without power as the country recovers from the damage of Storm Arwen.

The extreme weather claimed three lives as it swept across the UK including the death of an Aberdeenshire driver after his pick-up truck was crushed by a fallen tree on Friday night.

A yellow warning for snow and ice remains in place until mid-morning on Sunday in Scotland with the Met Office forecasting a risk of “wintry showers and icy stretches”.

The weekend’s storm saw transport services thrown into chaos and more than 100,000 homes suffering power cuts throughout Scotland.

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Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) said that despite managing to restore power to 63,000 properties around 52,000 customers were still without electricity as of 8pm on Saturday night.

The main areas affected are Aboyne, Ballater, Braemar, Glenshee, Kemnay, Whitehouse, Mossat, Strathdon and parts of rural Moray.

Some customers in Bonskeid, Coshieville, Errol, Gleneagles, Killin, Maryton, Milnathort, Redgorton and Turriff will also likely remain off supply on Sunday, a spokesperson said.

A ‘rest centre’ has been set up in Ballater at the Victoria and Albert Hall to provide welfare support for customers who remain off supply.

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A hot food van is also being provided to struggling locals, serving meals until 10pm and breakfast from 7am.

Mark Rough, director of customer operations at SSEN, said: “Whilst our teams have made good progress in challenging conditions following rhe extreme weather event, given the scale of the damage we want to give notice to the customers and communities who will unfortunately remain off supply overnight so that alternative arrangements can be made.

“We continue to liaise closely with local resilience partners to co-ordinate support, particularly to those on our Priority Service Register, as we enact established resilience plans and provide welfare support to the communities who will remain off supply.

“We would like to apologise once again to all customers who have been impacted by Storm Arwen and thank our customers for their continued patience and understanding. We would also like to thank our resilience partners for supporting a multi-agency response to what has been one of the most significant weather events we have experienced in decades.

“Our teams of engineers and field staff will continue to work into the night and be back out from first light tomorrow to continue repair and restoration efforts as we do all we can to restore power to those who remain off supply as soon as possible.”

On Saturday night, energy firm SSE urged customers who are without power for a second night to ‘order a takeaway’ on them.

The energy company made the offer as tens of thousands of homes faced the prospect of a second night without electricity.

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Spokesman Greg Clarke said: “We would encourage customers who are off supply to get themselves a takeaway, keep the receipt and we will look to reimburse them in full as a result of the fact that they are without power.”


Waiting time for Covid booster ‘likely to be reduced’ in Scotland

Linda Bauld said speeding up the waiting time to a five-month wait would be 'proportionate' in the wake of the new variant.

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The public health professor also said vaccinating children aged five to 12 would be a 'reasonable next step'.

Reducing the gap between Covid vaccinations and the booster jag is likely to happen in Scotland, a public health expert has said.

According to the current NHS Scotland advice, the coronavirus booster should be given at least six months (24 weeks) after the date of the second vaccine dose.

Linda Bauld, a professor in public health at the University of Edinburgh, said speeding up the waiting time for the booster to a five-month wait would be “proportionate” in the wake of new variant Omicron being discovered in the UK.

Speaking on the BBC’s The Sunday Show, Ms Bauld said: “If you look at the data from the Pfizer trial, and other countries, reducing it from six to five months seems to be proportionate.

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“I think we will hear that very soon.”

She added: “Israel and other countries are just boosting all adults, it’s not age stratified.

“You start with the most vulnerable but then you boost all adults who are eligible.

“That may be what happens here and we will at least go down to the 30s, probably below.”

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The public health professor also said vaccinating children aged five to 12 would be a “reasonable next step”.

Currently, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommends only those over 12 are offered a jab in the UK.

The US, however, has started to offer it to younger age groups.

“There are many parents who are asking for that (children’s vaccinations),” Ms Bauld said.

“We will have more world data in due course, and JCVI has been very cautious on teenage and young people vaccination, but that does seem to me like a real potential future step.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, Scotland’s biggest teaching union, said children over the age of five should be offered a Covid-19 vaccination to tackle the spread of the virus in schools.

Earlier this week, he said: “We are in favour of young people being offered that vaccine and we’ve said so at Serg (Scottish Education Recovery Group).

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“I was surprised to discover at Serg that there is apparently no licensed vaccines by age group in the UK at the moment, although clearly the USA have started vaccinating that particular group.

“Hopefully, there’s some work going on to make sure that a decision is taken to allow that age group to be vaccinated.”


Independence ‘offers escape from constant crisis at Westminster’

The SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford says the Tory government is 'engulfed in sleaze, cronyism and corruption'.

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Blackford: SNP Westminster leader to address party conference.

Scotland should choose independence to “escape the constant crisis of Westminster control”, Ian Blackford will say.

The SNP’s leader at Westminster is expected to tell his party conference that the Tory Government is “engulfed in sleaze, cronyism and corruption” and veers from one crisis to another.

Claiming independence is “within our grasp”, Blackford will argue leaving the United Kingdom “is now the pathway to safety and stability”.

In his virtual speech on the third day of the SNP conference, the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber will say: “For years now, what we are experiencing is a United Kingdom in constant crisis.

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“And it’s a crisis that comes with a real cost.

“The cost of Tory austerity cuts, the soaring cost of Brexit, the cost of a Westminster Government engulfed in sleaze, cronyism and corruption.

“The cost of having a man like Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

“Those are now the crises of the United Kingdom – and they are the costs we pay for being part of this union.

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“Independence is now the pathway to safety and stability – it offers an escape from the constant crisis of Westminster control.

“Built on the solid foundations of our own democratic decisions, independence offers the opportunity to build the post-pandemic future we all wish to see.

“The chance to build a new Scotland that finally takes its natural place amongst the nations of the world.”


Cruise ships set to arrive at £350m expanded harbour next year

The Aberdeen Harbour project has been delayed by the pandemic and the main contractor pulling out.

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Aberdeen Harbour is being made larger and deeper to attract bigger ships.

The first ships are on course to arrive at a £350m expanded harbour within the next year following months of delays.

Aberdeen Harbour is being made larger and deeper in a bid to attract cruise ships and support renewable energy projects.

The largest ongoing marine project in the UK was due to be completed by August 2020, but was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and its main contractor quitting.

Bosses now believe the first larger ships will be able to dock at the expanded harbour, just south of Nigg Bay, by October 2022.

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Aberdeen Harbour chief executive Bob Sanguinetti told STV News: “The project is going very well. We expect to see the first ships coming in and out of the harbour by October next year. 

“The majority, if not all, the works that are marine-related and weather-dependent are pretty much complete and we’re now focusing on the land side of the project.” 

Constructed around the corner from Aberdeen’s existing harbour, the site is the equivalent to the size of 11 football pitches.

Around 200 workers are currently on the site, which includes a towering wave wall, fortified by thousands of 36-tonne man-made blocks to absorb energy.

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Project manager Keith Young said: “It’s been a pretty tough time for everybody, but the people on site and those behind the scenes have meant we’ve got to this point. 

“We know we’ve got still hard work ahead of us, but we’re in a good place here and hopefully that will continue.”


Snow and ice warning for Scotland in aftermath of Storm Arwen

The Met Office has warned of a risk of 'wintry showers and icy stretches' for most of the country.

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Wintry weather: Scotland to expect ice and snow.

Scotland is experiencing freezing conditions in the aftermath of Storm Arwen which wreaked havoc across much of the UK.

A yellow warning for snow and ice remains in place until mid-morning on Sunday for the majority of the country.

The Met Office has warned of a risk of “wintry showers and icy stretches”.

Officials said it would be a cold and frosty start to the day, with showers affecting eastern coastal areas.

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The Met Office said: “Wintry showers will continue into Sunday around northern and eastern Scotland and the eastern side of England.

“These showers will fall as snow on hills and a mix of rain, sleet and snow to lower levels. Further small snow accumulations are possible.

“These showers, as well as existing lying snow, will cause also icy stretches.

“Meanwhile, during the early hours of Sunday and Sunday morning some more widespread snow will move southwards across Scotland into northwest England.

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“This snow will probably only last for an hour or two, but is likely to produce further, small accumulations of snow.”

The warning comes after Storm Arwen saw transport disrupted, power cuts and damage to buildings across Scotland.

The extreme weather claimed a total of three lives as it swept through the UK over the weekend.


Calls to mobilise ‘army of volunteers’ to help long Covid sufferers

Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has called for more options, support and treatment for long Covid patients.

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Lib Dems: Calls for 'army of volunteers' to help people suffering from long Covid.

An army of volunteers should be deployed to help people suffering from long Covid, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have said.

Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has called for more options, support and treatment for long Covid patients, and urged the Scottish Government to mobilise volunteers who could help with shopping or household chores.

Ahead of the release of the new estimates of the number of Scots experiencing longer-term symptoms after contracting coronavirus, Cole-Hamilton criticised the “woeful provision” currently available.

The latest Office for National Statistics figures from the start of October estimated that 1.2 million people in the UK – 1.9% of the population – were experiencing long Covid.

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Cole-Hamilton said: “A crisis on that scale would normally be cause for the Health Secretary to clear his diary but despite patients being left literally gasping for breath serious action seems to be beyond the SNP.

“Long Covid patients here would be better off moving to England where there are well-established clinics and a care pathway, given how woeful provision for the condition is here in Scotland. We shouldn’t be afraid to learn from successes elsewhere in the UK.

“I want to give patients with long Covid new hope for the future.”

Calling for the government to organise volunteers in a way similar to the Scotland Cares scheme launched during the first wave, Cole-Hamilton added: “We have an army of volunteers who would be happy to help people in need but the government needs to take on a coordinating role to make that happen.

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“It’s also clear that the needs of people with long Covid are complex and varied.

“That’s why I am calling for local health teams to be given expanded powers and information to prescribe non-clinical interventions and activities, from gentle exercise to singing lessons which sufferers have found can help with breathing.

“The SNP Government has overlooked this hidden pandemic for too long and needs to start delivering for the tens of thousands of Scots who are battling this devastating condition.

“Long Covid patients need new hope for their health and I’m determined that they get it.”


Scotland adopts new travel rules after Omicron variant found in UK

Humza Yousaf said Scotland will adopt the new restrictions announced by the UK Government on Saturday.

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Restrictions: Scotland to follow UK Government on border restrictions.

Scotland will adopt new border restrictions introduced by the UK Government after two cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant were detected in England, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has said.

The two linked cases have been found in Nottingham and Brentwood, Essex, and are believed to have been contracted in southern Africa.

No cases of the new variant have been confirmed in Scotland to date.

Scientists have said they are concerned about the B.1.1.529 variant as it has around 30 different mutations – which is double the number present in the Delta variant.

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Yousaf said confirmation of the Omicron cases in the UK are “a stark reminder that we must not drop our guard”.

Following discussions with UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid and the other devolved administrations, he said Scotland is aligning with the new border restrictions being introduced by the UK Government which will require fully vaccinated arrivals to take a PCR test within two days of arrival and to self-isolate until a negative result is received.

He said the measures will be introduced “as soon as possible” and kept under constant review.

The Scottish Government will also adopt the expanded red list of countries identified by the UK Government.

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“No cases have yet been detected in Scotland,” Yousaf said, “But the fact this new variant is on our doorstep is clearly a worry and we should act as though it is already here.”

He urged Scots to redouble their efforts in protecting themselves against Covid, adding: “There is still much to learn about the Omicron variant.

“Questions remain about its severity, transmissibility and effect on treatments or vaccines, and scientists are working at pace to provide additional information.

“Until more is known we must adopt the precautionary principle and do everything we can to minimise the risk of spreading infection.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that “we all have a part to play in beating” the Omicron variant.

She posted: “There are no confirmed cases of Omicron in (Scotland) yet, but we MUST act as if it’s already here. @scotgov is introducing new requirements for travellers, but we all have a part to play in beating this new threat.

“So wear (masks), wash hands, get vaccines & test before socialising.”

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the new variant could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, as he announced the strengthening of Covid rules at a Downing Street press conference on Saturday evening.

As well as the new rules for travellers, masks will now again become mandatory in shops and on public transport in England and contacts of Omicron Covid cases will have to self-isolate.

Yousaf added: “Throughout the pandemic people in Scotland have been amazing in doing everything possible to get cases down, to protect ourselves, each other and the NHS, and in taking up the offer of a vaccine.

“We must now redouble our efforts to follow the basic rules that have served us well so far in the pandemic – wear a face covering on public transport and in all indoor settings for food and retail; open windows, especially if you have people visiting at home; keep washing your hands regularly and thoroughly.

“Work from home where possible, take regular lateral flow tests and behave sensibly.

“If you have symptoms, self-isolate and take a test.”

He urged anyone who is unvaccinated or is yet to receive their second dose to book an appointment now.

“If you are over 40, you can book your booster jab for six months after your second vaccine dose – please do so,” he added.

“As we head into winter we are facing an as yet unknown risk from this new variant. Let’s once again rise to the challenge and do everything we can to keep everyone safe.”

Earlier, the Scottish Government announced 17 coronavirus-linked deaths and 2287 new cases had been recorded in the past 24 hours.

It means the death toll under this daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – is now 9562.

The daily test positivity rate was 8.2%, down from 9.1% the previous day.

There were 53 people in intensive care on Friday with recently confirmed Covid-19, down seven on the day before, and 727 people were in hospital with the virus.

So far, 4,344,043 people have received their first dose of a vaccination, 3,945,451 have had their second, and 1,598,749 have received a third dose or booster.


SSE urge customers without power to ‘order a takeaway’ on them

The company made the offer as tens of thousands of homes remain without power for a second night.

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SSE have urged customers who are without power for a second night to ‘order a takeaway’ on them.

The energy company made the offer as tens of thousands of homes faced the prospect of a second night without electricity after Storm Arwen battered Scotland.

A rare red weather warning was issued from Friday at 3pm until Saturday at 2am as strong winds up to 90mph damaged houses, caused travel chaos and left hundreds of thousands of homes without power. 

Greg Clarke, spokesperson for SSE, told STV News: “Storm Arwen has resulted in significant damage to the overhead electricity network across the north of Scotland, predominantly in the north east, Moray coast, Aberdeenshire Tayside and Perth. 

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“We’ve experienced hundreds of faults of the overhead network as a result of fallen trees, fallen branches and debris.

“It’s brought significant damage and it’s been a real challenge for our engineers, who are working hard on getting people back onto supply today. 

“At the peak, we had over 100,000 customers off supply, at the moment we’re down to about 60,000 customers who are still off supply and they are generally concentrated in the north-east. 

“Our teams will continue to work hard throughout the course of today and into this evening to try and restore power to as many customers as possible. 

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“Some people will unfortunately remain off supply overnight again.”

The company has urged vulnerable customers to contact them on 105 so they can offer assistance to those most in need.

Hot food and drinks have also been supplied to the main areas affected, Mr Clarke said.

However as a goodwill gesture, he urged customers to order a takeaway which SSE will later reimburse. 

“We would encourage customers who are off supply to get themselves a takeaway, keep the receipt and we will look to reimburse them in full as a result of the fact that they are without power,” Mr Clarke added. 

“It’s been the perfect storm, so to speak, our customers have been extremely patient and we would like to thank them for their patience and apologise for the clear inconvenience.”


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