Mainland Scotland in full lockdown from Boxing Day

The relaxation of the coronavirus rules over the festive season have also been scaled back to Christmas Day only.

Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on. Ross Parker via SNS Group
Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on.

The majority of Scotland will be put into a full lockdown from Boxing Day, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The First Minister said mainland Scotland will be moved into level four for three weeks amid fears a new variant strain is accelerating the spread of coronavirus.

Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles will be moved from level one into level three.

The relaxation of the coronavirus rules over the festive season have also been scaled back to Christmas Day only.

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Schools will also remain closed for most pupils until January 18, with a week of home learning from January 11.

Up to three households in Scotland were initially allowed to gather indoors between December 23 and 27.

However, the First Minister announced on Saturday at a Scottish Government briefing that the five-day window was now being reduced to December 25 only.

A strict travel ban has also been put in place over the holidays, with cross-border travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK not permitted.

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Sturgeon said: “Unfortunately, and I am genuinely sorry about this, that ban will remain in place right throughout the festive period.

“We simply cannot risk more of this new strain entering the country if we can possibly avoid it.

“That means people from Scotland not visiting other parts of the UK, and vice versa.

“Cross-border travel for all but the most essential purposes is not permitted.”

Christmas holidays for most Scottish pupils have been extended to January 11 and the majority will begin the new term studying from home until at least January 18.

The First Minister said schools will reopen as currently scheduled for some pupils, such as the children of key workers and the “most vulnerable”.

The First Minister said the new strain may be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant and could increase the R number by 0.4.

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She said that 17 cases of the new strain have been recorded in Scotland.

Sturgeon warned: “But I think we have to be realistic that that is likely to be an understatement of its true prevalence right now.”

Earlier on Saturday, 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 three will be moved into a new tier four – 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.

Sturgeon said “we do now face a very serious situation”.

She added: “It is, in fact, probably the most serious and potentially dangerous juncture we have faced since the start of the Covid pandemic in February and March.”

Sturgeon later tweeted: “And while it’s hard to see it right now, the light at the end of the tunnel is still there.

“With every day that passes, more people are being vaccinated. We will get through this – but as we do, let’s continue to love and look out for each other.”

In response to the change of measures, Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross said: “Families across Scotland will be devastated at these new measures, especially so close to Christmas.

“However, given the rapidly increasing spread of the virus across the UK, and until our scientists know more about the transmission of this new variant, it is understandable why these restrictions are necessary at this time.

“None of us want this, but these sacrifices will save lives.

“We would expect the Scottish Government to ensure a return to regional levels of restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie has called for schools to be closed next week.

He said: “When the science speaks in such stark terms, the leadership of the country must listen and act. 

“Shutting down mainland Scotland for three weeks will have a great impact on people’s lives, but it is the response that is necessary to match this new threat.

“However, the Scottish Government should act earlier by closing schools next week. 

“The new strain of the virus is already here and pupils and teachers who are infected in school next week could pass it onto vulnerable relatives on Christmas Day. Let’s be safe and close the schools early.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard added: “The Scottish Government must make decisions based on public health advice and solid evidence.

“To win public confidence behind this significant tightening of restrictions requires persuasive evidence to be published, transparency and openness, and a substantial rise in testing, otherwise not only will there be disappointment there will be a heightened risk of non-compliance.”

The mainland lockdown from Boxing Day will see shops miss out on an estimated £135m for each week they are closed, the Scottish Retail Consortium has said.

Non-essential shops, restaurants and pubs will have to close while the restrictions are in place, although takeaway food will be permitted.

David Lonsdale, SRC director, called for additional financial support for shops and an extension of business rates relief into 2021-22.

He said: “We recognise that government has difficult decisions to make and the situation with the pandemic is fast moving, but this hugely disappointing news rounds off a torrid year for Scottish retail and is a further hammer-blow to non-food stores who have already borne so much during this crisis.

“Retailers in Scotland have invested over £40m thus far making stores Covid-secure for customers and staff, and Sage’s advice has said throughout that closing non-essential retail has a minimal impact on the spread of the virus.

“The consequences of this move could be severe. This decision comes only a week after the end of the local lockdowns in west central Scotland and slap bang in the middle of peak trading which so many are depending on to power their recovery and tide them over the leaner winter period.

“Faced with this news – and the prospect of losing £135m each week in revenues during the lockdown – many stores will be in serious difficulty.

“Many could be lumbered with unsold pre-Christmas stock which will be difficult to shift in the absence of the usual Boxing Day and New Year discounted sales events, adding to cash flow woes.

“All of this will have implications for the survival of shops, for retail jobs and the vitality of our retail destinations.”

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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By Rachel Guy and Polly Bartlett

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.

STV News
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.”


Schools to close for two days after area badly hit by Storm Arwen

Aberdeenshire Council confirmed on Sunday that schools in the area would close to both pupils and staff.

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Closure: Aberdeenshire schools to close for two days following Storm Arwen.

Schools in Aberdeenshire are set to close on Monday and Tuesday after the area was badly hit by Storm Arwen.  

Aberdeenshire Council confirmed on Sunday evening that schools in the area would close to both pupils and staff due to the ongoing weather issues. 

Angus Council later announced that 11 primary schools would close on Monday due to power failures or building safety issues.

NHS Grampian said that vaccination centres in Aberdeenshire would close on Monday and urged patients to rearrange appointments. 

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Meanwhile thousands of homes are facing the prospect of a third night without power, with water supplies also affected by the storm. 

Scottish Water said around 3000 homes were still without water supplies, with the company adding it was handing out bottled water to affected customers. 

Energy firm SSE said it may take “several days” before power is fully restored to homes, adding the damage caused by Storm Arwen was ‘three times greater’ than the Beast from the East in 2018.

The company urged people to make alternative arrangements as work continued to restore power, adding that vulnerable customers can contact 105 for assistance. 

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Mark Rough from SSE, said: “Our teams are responding to some of the most significant and challenging conditions experienced in the areas affected in decades, with catastrophic damage on several overhead circuits due to multiple instances of damage which need to be repaired before power can be restored.  

“We do expect to make good progress today and restore power to significant numbers of customers who remain off supply.  

“However, as it is likely to take several days before each and every customer is restored and the network is back to normal operations, we are this morning giving advance notice to customers who remain off supply, particularly those in rural and isolated communities, that it may take several days before power is restored.  

“Those customers may therefore want to consider making alternative arrangements where possible.”

On Saturday night, 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.

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.”

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On Sunday, the deputy first minister chaired a meeting of the Scottish Government’s Resilience Room on the impact of Storm Arwen.

John Swinney said that recovery from the storm would be more challenging than first anticipated.

Swinney said: “The scale of the damage caused by Storm Arwen is worse than we first feared and as a result our recovery will take longer than anticipated.

“We know this will create significant challenges for communities and households still affected by the storm’s impacts and I want to reassure them we are doing everything we can, liaising with local resilience partnerships, to focus efforts and resources. 

“We have been working closely and at pace with power companies who are maximising efforts to restore services to households currently without power. Plans are being put in place for further assistance to respond to the longer than expected recovery and we are concentrating getting power restored for vulnerable people and those who need it most.

“In extremely challenging circumstances we have seen an outstanding response from local resilience partnerships who have been providing vital support to local residents and I would like to thank them for their continuing efforts.”


Body discovered inside property following house fire

Emergency crews were called to the blaze in Keith, Moray on Sunday afternoon around 3.35pm.

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Fire: Body found following blaze.

A person has died following a house fire in Moray. 

Emergency services were called to the property on Union Street in Keith on Sunday around 3.35pm.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze however a body was discovered within the property. 

Enquiries into the death are ongoing, police said.

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A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “We were made aware of a fire at a property on Union Street in Keith around 3.35pm on Sunday, November 28.

“The fire has been extinguished by the fire service but sadly a body of a person was found within.

“Enquiries are ongoing and a report will be submitted to the Procurator Fiscal in due course.”


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.


SNP set to bring motion of censure against Boris Johnson

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said his party would use the opposition time to do so in the Commons on Tuesday.

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SNP insist the Prime Minister must be held to account for his 'disastrous actions'.

The SNP is to bring a motion of censure against Boris Johnson, insisting the Prime Minister must be held to account for his “disastrous actions”.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said his party would use opposition time in the Commons on Tuesday to put down a motion of censure.

He revealed the move as he criticised the “chaotic governance” within Downing Street that he said was both “damaging and dangerous”.

With this taking place in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, Blackford told the SNP annual conference: “That would be bad enough in normal times, but it is unforgivable in the middle of a pandemic.”

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SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford.
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Referring to the Prime Minister’s speech to the CBI, where Johnson spoke of his trip to Peppa Pig World, the SNP MP claimed the Tory leader was becoming “deeper and deeper out of his depth”.

Blackford, who addressed the virtual conference from his home in Skye, stated: “It was previously said that the Prime Minister’s office was no place for a novice.

“Well, I can tell you it is no place for a negligent either.”

He added: “In the absence of actions from others in holding this Prime Minister to account, it is once again our job as the Scottish National Party to act as the real opposition.

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“On Tuesday, the SNP will use our opposition day to put down a motion of censure against this Prime Minister.

“Because unless this Prime Minister is censured, unless he faces consequences for his disastrous actions, he won’t just think he’s gotten away with the mess he has made of the last few months, he will think he can do it all over again.”

His comments came as he sought to contrast Johnson’s government in London with the Scottish Government that Nicola Sturgeon heads.

Sturgeon, the SNP leader and Scottish First Minister, showed “mature, measured, and thoughtful leadership” at the recent Cop26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Mr Blackford said.

However, he said Johnson had produced an “omnibus of omnishambles” while in charge at Westminster.

Blackford went on to accuse the Tories of “deliberate corruption”, saying in Johnson’s time as PM there had been “a cash for honours scandal, a cash for contracts scandal, a text for tax breaks scandal” and even a “cash for curtains scandal”.

The SNP Westminster leader insisted: “Scotland must have the chance to escape that crippling corruption.

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“Because with independence we can do so much better than this. ”

Since the 2014 independence referendum – in which Scots voted to stay part of the UK – he said “the stability of the status quo, the stability of the United Kingdom, has systematically fallen apart”.

Blackford added: “For years now, what we are experiencing is a United Kingdom in constant crisis.”

In contrast to this, he argued: “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.”

That independent Scotland is “within our grasp”, he told SNP supporters, insisting that Johnson “cannot deny democracy” and continue to block a second vote on the future of the UK

Following the party’s election victory in May’s Scottish Parliament elections, Blackford insisted: “The democratic right to a referendum is secure and our First Minister will lead us through that campaign.

“Our independence movement has faced a long road, but journey’s end is now in sight.”


Christmas light festival cancelled after electrical fault detected

Police cordoned off Market Square in Stonehaven on Sunday afternoon as a safety precaution.

© Google Maps 2020
Cancelled: Stonehaven's light festival was due to take place on Sunday.

A Christmas light festival has been cancelled after an underground cable fault was detected in Aberdeenshire. 

Police have cordoned off Market Square in Stonehaven on Sunday afternoon as a safety precaution.

It is understood that dogs have been injured by the fault. 

The switch on event, which was due to take place on Sunday, has been cancelled at the request of the police. 

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A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Officers are currently in attendance at Market Square in Stonehaven following concerns raised about the electricity network in the area.

“The area has been evacuated as a precaution and nobody has been injured.

“SSE Networks has been made aware.”


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.”


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.”


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'.

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
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.”


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