Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that a decision on whether to ease Covid testing requirements for travellers to Scotland will be made in the coming days.
The First Minister, making a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, said there are still “real concerns” about whether to do so.
But, she acknowledged that Scots may instead choose to fly from England if the country adopts more stringent requirements than south of the border.
It comes after the UK Government last week announced its intention to relax the rules from October.
The changes will mean that in England, those who are fully vaccinated will no longer need a pre-departure test before returning from non-red list destinations.
From the end of October, they will also be able to replace the day two PCR test with a cheaper lateral flow test.
However, Sturgeon told MSPs that PCR tests are more effective at guarding against the risk of new variants than alternative tests.
“Scotland, like Wales and Northern Ireland, has not yet taken a final decision on this, though we will do so within the next couple of days,” she said.
“We do have real concerns about easing the requirements on tests. That’s because we still need to guard against new variants of the virus being imported into the country and also have a way of identifying quickly if a new variant does enter the country.
“Testing both before someone’s departure to travel to Scotland, and soon after their arrival here can help us do that. Without that, we will have much less ability to pick up the presence of new variants.”
She continued: “We also believe that the PCR tests and other highly sensitive tests currently required for testing, are more effective at guarding against the risk of new variants than alternative tests.
“They are more likely to identify positive tests than most lateral flow tests, although lateral flow devices are of course valuable, and PCR tests also make it easier for new variants to be sequenced and identified.
“However, on the other hand in terms of this consideration, we also fully understand and agree with the desirability wherever possible of adopting a four nations approach to travel restrictions.”
Sturgeon said that she will speak with the country’s chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, to weigh up the public health risks of making any changes to the current system.
She told MSPs: “We must recognise the reality, however difficult this may be for us, that if Scotland adopts more stringent requirements than England, then people living in Scotland who want to go abroad, may decide to fly from airports based in England.
“In these circumstances, we would potentially face the economic cost of stricter travel rules, without gaining enough public health benefit to justify that cost.
“So we must weigh up the public health risks of making this change and I’ll be discussing this further with the chief medical officer with the pragmatic considerations I’ve just frankly set out and the understandable concerns of the travel industry.
“It’s not an easy decision and it will have implications either way, and as I indicated earlier, we will confirm our decision in the next day or so.”