Hugging and indoor visits allowed as restrictions ease

The First Minister confirmed on Tuesday that Covid rules will be relaxed further from May 17.

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Scots will be able to hug their loved ones from Monday, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

During the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, the First Minister confirmed that the majority of mainland Scotland will move to level two of the Scottish Government’s five-tier Covid-alert system as scheduled from May 17.

From that date social distancing during meetings indoors or in private gardens will be dropped.

Sturgeon said: “I actually feel a wee bit emotional saying this, from Monday, as long as you stay within permitted limits, you can hug your loved ones again.”

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The restrictions will remain in place away from homes and private gardens.

Moray is expected to remain in level three following a surge in cases and an increase in hospital admissions. A decision will be made later this week.

In the rest of the mainland, six people from three households will be able to meet indoors, the same number can meet in a hospitality venue and eight people from eight houses can meet outdoors.

Alcohol can be served indoors in pubs, cafes and restaurants, and cinemas, bingo halls and amusement arcades can reopen.

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Many of Scotland’s islands will move to level one due to vaccination coverage and low case numbers.

The Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland are included, as are all islands in the Highland Council area except Skye. The move will also apply to islands in the Argyll and Bute council area.

Updates from the briefing:

  • Most of mainland Scotland will move to level two of the Scottish Government’s five-tier Covid-alert system as scheduled on Monday, May 17.
  • Moray could be left in level three due to rising coronavirus cases. A decision will be made later this week.
  • Islands including Shetland and the Western Isles will move to level one.
  • Six people from three households will be able to meet indoors, the same number can meet in a hospitality venue and eight people from eight houses can meet outdoors.
  • Hugs are back. From Monday, the rules on physical distancing will be dropped for personal gatherings inside and outside people’s homes. The restrictions will remain in place away from homes and private gardens.
  • Alcohol can be served indoors in pubs, cafes and restaurants until 10.30pm from Monday.
  • Cinemas, bingo halls and amusement arcades can reopen. Adult outdoor contact sports and indoor group exercises can resume.
  • International travel will move to a ‘traffic light system’ from Monday.

Regarding the easing of international travel, Sturgeon advised that Scots should “think seriously” about taking holidays and “err on the side of caution”.

Announcing the move to a new ‘traffic light system’ from Monday, the FM said: “Even though the rules on non-essential travel are starting to change, that doesn’t mean we’re saying that non-essential international travel is desirable.

“Everyone should think seriously about whether they should travel abroad this summer.

“When it comes to holidays abroad, my advice continues to be to err on the side of caution and to staycation this summer.”


‘Without young people, there is no future here’

Calls for action to reverse depopulation in the Outer Hebrides.

STV News

The population of the Outer Hebrides is expected to plummet over the next 20 years, prompting calls for action to keep young people on the islands.

A recent report by National Records of Scotland projected that the number of households will have fallen by 11% by 2043.

Those who live there are growing increasingly concerned by depopulation and fear the pandemic may have accelerated the problem.

They want to see a more targeted and intensive campaign to tackle the issue.

‘No future without youngsters’

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Kenny Macleod, who runs a community shop on the Isle of Harris, said his daughter’s nursery has just three pupils.

“It’s a big concern for an area like this,” he told STV News. “A village is nothing without its youngsters. There’s no future for it.

“Currently the school roll is falling and it’s falling all the time. Looking into the future it’s pretty bleak at the moment for youngsters and for the school.”

STV News
Shop owner Kenny Macleod.

Leverburgh Care Home on Harris is also facing difficulties – managers have been forced to recruit agency staff from the mainland and rent a home for them.

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Deputy manager Joanetta Grantley said: “Years ago there was always lots of people around, a lot of young people around and they’d be staying here, but they’re all moving away now because there’s nothing for them here.

“Restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfasts, all these places are looking for staff at the moment, but there just aren’t enough people.”

‘We need opportunities’

Christina Macleod, a student in Dundee, recently returned to her childhood home in Harris for a summer job, but doesn’t know if she’ll be back after she graduates.

“I would like to live away,” she said. “I much prefer the city, but I do like coming home.

“If there were more opportunities for jobs I would definitely come home.”

Teaching in America from Lewis

At the other end of Lewis, Ariana Ayu, David Robb and their five-year-old son, David, have been bucking the trend.

After living in America for ten years, they decided to settle in Ness, where they run a bed and breakfast.

STV News
Ariana Ayu, David Robb and their five-year-old son David.
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Ariana said: “We wanted to find a place to raise our son that had a feeling of community… somewhere we could get to know our neighbours in ways we don’t in a lot of big cities.

“I’m teaching nursing classes in America right now online. So with technology we can really live wherever we want and still be connected to the people that we love and be connected to our jobs.”

‘We need more homes’

A lack of affordable housing is seen as one of the main stumbling blocks when it comes to boosting the population.  

Holiday homes, housing projects concentrated in urban rather than rural areas and inflated property prices due to Covid and Brexit have all had an impact.

Musician Padraig Morrison, who returned to Grimsay in North Uist last year after living in Glasgow, says people do want to return to the islands.

But he said finding a property was a major obstacle; people buying holiday homes has pushed prices up.

“There have been a number of folk who have had really challenging housing situations as soon as they have moved back,” he said.

“They’ve had to go back to the family home or do some couch surfing in order to be in the place that they want to be.”

What is being done?

Western Isles Council said it planned to make a case to the Scottish Government for extra support to provide more diverse jobs and housing.

STV News
It’s hoped various measures can reverse depopulation.

The government said it was looking at options such as an Islands Bond, offering young people and families a financial incentive to stay in or move to the islands.

It added that work was already underway through its National Islands plan to address areas threatened by depopulation.


Euro 2020: Italy light up opening game with 3-0 win in Rome

Italy opened the tournament with a 3-0 win over Turkey in Rome.

Craig Foy via SNS Group
Celebrations: Italy fans in Glasgow fan-zone.

Italy have won the opening Euro 2020 game with a 3-0 win over Turkey in Rome.

The Italian’s dominated for the 90 minutes after a stirring opening ceremony rendition of Nessun Dorma by Andrea Bocelli at the Stadio Olimpico.

Roberto Mancini’s men laid down a marker with three second half goals to extend their unbeaten run to 29 games.

They have won their last nine without conceding a goal and scored more than two goals at a European Championships game for the first time in their history.

Craig Foy via SNS Group
Italy fans celebrate in Glasgow. SNS Group.
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Thousands of fans attended the first Glasgow fan-zone to watch the opening game on Friday night.

Upto 6000 supporters are expected to attend Glasgow Green for every one of the games including Scotland’s three group matches.

Steve Clarke’s men open their campaign against Czech Republic at Hampden on Monday before taking on England four days later.

They return to Glasgow to take on Croatia in their final group game.

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The month-long tournament is being held over several host cities throughout the continent.

More on:

‘Boogie cover has put me on the road to Hampden’

Brooke Combe's version of Scotland's new football anthem went viral after the play-off victory.

STV News

A singer who shot to fame with her cover of Scotland’s new football anthem wants to grace the Hampden turf one day.

But despite being a keen footballer in her schooldays, Brooke Combe isn’t expecting to lace up her boots and pull on the famous dark blue jersey.

Instead, she wants to get fans dancing in their seats by one day headlining a concert at the famous national stadium.

The 21-year-old Edinburgh star’s profile “blew up” after she covered Baccara’s disco classic Yes Sir, I Can Boogie – the song adopted by the Tartan Army and Scotland squad.

STV News
Brooke’s cover went viral on TikTok.
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Brooke recorded her version after footage showing the players dancing and celebrating to the song took over social media following the national side’s qualification for Euro 2020.

Her video went viral on TikTok and even attracted the attention of Scotland captain Andy Robertson.

“My friend texted me ‘if you cover this it’s going to blow up’,” Brooke told Scotland: We Can Boogie, streaming now on the STV Player.

“It blew up, it absolutely blew up.”

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Brooke is now being tipped for big things, having recently released her first single ‘Are You With Me?’, a collaboration with Blossoms bassist Charlie Salt and The Coral.

And she believes her music career will eventually lead her down the road to Hampden.

“To play Hampden one day would be incredible – it will happen, watch this space,” she said.


Recreated Iron Age roundhouse gutted by fire overnight

The Scottish Crannog Centre by Loch Tay went up in flames shortly before midnight on Friday.

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Fire: Scottish Crannog Centre hit by blaze.

A recreated Iron Age house on the shores of Loch Tay has been gutted by a fire which broke out on Friday night.

The Scottish Crannog Centre, which is also a museum of life in ancient Scotland, was hit by a devastating fire overnight.

The Iron Age roundhouse stood on stilts on the loch shore at Kenmore in Perthshire.

Video and pictures posted online by people nearby showed the museum engulfed in flames shortly before midnight.

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A spokesman for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said it was called to the scene at 11.12pm on Friday, where there was a “well developed” fire.

The fire was extinguished just after midnight and there were no reports of any casualties.

Pete Wishart, MP for Perth and North Perthshire, tweeted: “Simply awful. The internationally renowned Crannog Centre is a huge part of the whole community of Kenmore/Loch Tay.

“So sorry for all involved with the centre who will be really upset this morning. We must rebuild it.”

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Last year the Scottish Crannog Centre was one of a number of community projects which shared almost £200,000 in funding as part of Scotland’s Year of Coast and Waters.

The centre was given £18,723 to help repair the walkway and decking surrounding the loch dwelling, as well as creating an outreach project for local schools.


Supporters gather as Glasgow Euro 2020 fan zone opens

It's the biggest event in the city since the pandemic began despite concerns it could lead to a spike in coronavirus cases.

SNS Group via SNS Group / STV News

The official Euros fan zone has opened in Glasgow and for the next 31 days will show every game of the tournament.

It’s the biggest event in the city since the pandemic began despite concerns it could lead to a spike in coronavirus cases.

Up to 6000 people each day are going to be able to watch Euros matches in the Glasgow Green area if they have a ticket.

Fans heading to the site were encouraged to take a coronavirus test before arriving, however proof of a negative test is not required before entry.

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Euro 2020 is the first major tournament the Scotland men’s team have qualified for in more than two decades.

Earlier today Professor Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, said “there will have to be a reverse gear” if clusters of virus cases are linked to the fan zone.

He said the fan zone is a “gateway event” as part of the move out of lockdown.

He said: “I think they’ve done a good job. It’s not zero risk, the fan zone cannot be zero risk.

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“The only way to take away all of the risk of Covid is to lock the city down, not let any crowds in the fan zone or the stadium.

“That’s not what I think the pandemic stage we’re at suggests.”


Toddler who died after falling into pond named by police

Emergency services were alerted to the incident in Dollar Avenue, Falkirk, at around 6.10pm on Thursday.

Police Scotland
Heartbreaking: Ella-Grace Rimington, who was known as Gracie, died after falling into a pond.

A toddler who died in hospital after falling into a garden pond has been named by police.

Emergency services were alerted to the incident in Dollar Avenue, Falkirk, at around 6.10pm on Thursday.

Ella-Grace Rimington, who was known as Gracie, was taken to Forth Valley Royal Hospital but the 18-month-old died a short time later.

Enquiries into the incident are ongoing, however the death is not being treated as suspicious.

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Detective inspector Craig Faulds, of Forth Valley’s CID, said: “This is a heartbreaking incident in which a young girl has died.

“The family has asked that they be given privacy at this very difficult time and I would like to ask the public and media to please respect the family’s wishes as they deal with their unimaginable loss.”


US raises concerns over Innova Covid test used in UK

The FDA said the performance of the test "has not been adequately established."

UK Government via Gov.uk
In a statement, Innova said that it is 'confident about the quality of its product'.

The UK’s health department has said it has confidence in lateral flow tests – despite concerns being raised by the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) over the use of a test made by Innova.

In a statement, the FDA said that it had “significant concerns” over the Innova SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Qualitative Test.

It said that the performance of the test “has not been adequately established, presenting a risk to health”, and warned the public to stop using it for diagnostic use.

The FDA stated that labelling distributed with “certain configurations of the test includes performance claims that did not accurately reflect the performance estimates observed during the clinical studies of the tests”.

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It also noted that the test has not been authorised, cleared, or approved by the FDA for commercial distribution or use in the United States, as required by law.

The tests have been used in the UK as part of the UK Government’s ‘Operation Moonshot’ as part of efforts to ramp up mass testing.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “The Innova test has already gone through the UK’s rigorous Porton Down assessment process, and we have a robust quality assurance process in place.

“We have confidence in lateral flow tests, which help us identify people without symptoms but who could pass the virus to others – helping break the chains of transmission.”

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In a statement, Innova said that it is “confident about the quality of its product”.

The statement read: “Innova is of course committed in making the most equitable test with the highest quality, and none of the inspectional observations in the FDA letter concern the performance of the test.

“The Innova rapid antigen test has been widely used, studied, tested, scrutinised and analysed with data supporting the efficacy of the test from the largest mass testing programme out of the UK.

“Innova understands the FDA’s health risk concern for the US market as they have not evaluated or authorised the Innova test in the US.

“In simple terms, the regulator won’t confirm a product is safe to use until it has evaluated and authorised a product itself.

“Innova has voluntarily recalled those products that it distributed to its employees, clinical studies and some customers for evaluations purposes. Innova is confident about the quality of its product.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:

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“There is a robust quality assurance programme in place for Innova tests which are currently used for all lateral flow testing in Scotland and have also already gone through the UK National Testing Programme’s rigorous Porton Down assessment process.

“We have confidence in lateral flow tests which have been available to anyone in Scotland who wants one since April 26 and are vital in helping break the chains of transmission, by helping us identify people without symptoms but who could pass on the virus.

“As we have said consistently from the outset, no test is 100% accurate, and testing on its own, does not reduce transmission. It only helps stop transmission through the actions taken following the result.”


Scotland’s health body accused of ‘conflict of interest’

The Scottish Conservatives have now called for a new independent report on Covid deaths in care homes.

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Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said that public agencies 'do not exist to protect the reputation of ministers'.

Public Health Scotland has been accused of a “blatant conflict of interest” following reports that it had to score research to determine whether papers challenged or criticised Scottish Government policies.

It comes after the Times newspaper said that it had obtained a document showing that the body had agreed a “communications framework” with the Scottish Government and COSLA, the national association of Scottish councils.

The document instructs PHS to manage “risk” when communicating with the media and the public, the newspaper reported.

It involves a ranking system, with communications which could cause “sustained or widespread criticism of the Scottish Government” allocated as being of very high/severe risk.

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Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf has said that the claims are “not true”, and that PHS “functions entirely independently of ministers”.

PHS has also stated that it “discharges its duties with integrity” and is “committed to work that is both open and transparent”.

The Scottish Conservatives have called for a new independent report on Covid deaths in care homes to be published after suggesting that the document produced by PHS “may have been compromised”.

The party’s shadow health secretary Annie Wells said: “There is a blatant conflict of interest in Public Health Scotland judging SNP ministers, who the agency has a duty to protect from criticism.

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“The Public Health Scotland report on Covid deaths in care homes was controversial from the start. It was delayed and when it was finally released, the SNP set about spinning lines and downplaying its findings.

“Grieving families were furious at the lack of answers it gave.”

Wells continued: “This news calls into question if the findings of that report were compromised. The revelation that Public Health Scotland must protect SNP ministers may well explain why key information was omitted.

“We now need a new, truly independent report on what went wrong in Scotland’s care homes, where more than 3000 people tragically lost their lives. Families deserve comprehensive analysis they can trust.”

Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said that public agencies do not exist to protect the reputation of ministers.

“Scots believed PHS was an independent voice subjecting life or death decisions during the pandemic to serious scrutiny,” said Baillie.

“But these reports raise serious questions about a conflict of interest that need to be resolved. It is just another example of the micromanagement and control freakery which defines the SNP. 

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“Public agencies don’t exist to protect the reputation of ministers and a competent government has nothing to fear from honest accountability. 

“On vital matters of public health, Scotland deserve answers, not nationalist spin.” 

Responding to a request for comment by STV News, PHS said that as a provider of official statistics, it takes its responsibilities under the UK Statistics Code of Practice seriously.

The body outlined that the Office for Statistics Regulation regulates the production of official statistics, and that this includes the work of PHS.

PHS said that this included the production of the Hospital Discharges to Care Homes Report, which was produced independently by PHS working in partnership with the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

It also stated that it has a head of profession for statistics to ensure the organisation meets its obligations under the code for objectivity, integrity and transparency. 

In a statement, the body added: “PHS discharges its duties with integrity and is committed to work that is both open and transparent.

“A risk assessment for all publications is undertaken only to inform the supporting communications approach, and for the awareness of sponsors. It does not change the substance, content or independence of those publications.”

Health secretary Humza Yousaf said that no one should call the integrity of PHE into question.

He said: “These claims are not true. Public Health Scotland functions entirely independently of ministers – as of course is right and proper – and any suggestion to the contrary is absolutely wrong.

“Throughout the pandemic PHS staff have been working tirelessly to provide data that has been vital for decision making and no one should call their integrity into question.”


Scotland players to ‘take the knee’ before England match

Andy Robertson and Steve Clarke reaffirmed the team's stance against racism but changed their plans.

Alan Harvey via SNS Group
Scotland players have been 'taking a stand' against racism before recent games.

Scotland players will “take the knee” before their Euro 2020 match against England – but plan to continue to “stand up against racism” in their other games at the tournament.

The national team decided to “stand up against racism”, rather than taking the knee, in March following a series of racist incidents in the Scottish game this season.

Ahead of the European Championships, the Scottish FA had announced that the players would continue with the stance throughout the tournament, including group games against Czech Republic, England and Croatia.

The announcement reignited debate around the issue, which has become a polarising topic in England in particular.

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England staff and players have continued to take the knee as part of their own action against racism in sport, and were booed by some fans during Euro 2020 warm-up games, prompting manager Gareth Southgate to insist that his squad would continue during the tournament.

Scotland have now amended their plans, with manager Steve Clarke and captain Andy Robertson saying that the team will kneel before they play England to show unity with their opponents, while continuing their own approach to the issue in other matches.

Clarke said that he felt there had been an effort from some to “politicise or misinterpret” his players’ decision and reaffirmed the squad’s opposition to racism.

The national team boss said that the response had been agreed earlier this year after considered discussion and in conjunction with clubs including Rangers and Celtic after high-profile racist incidents.

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“I explained in March the rationale behind the squad decision,” he said in a statement released on Friday.

“Not only is it consistent with the collective approach from Scottish football above but the purpose of taking the knee, to raise awareness and help eradicate racism in football and society, has been diluted and undermined by the continuation of abuse towards players.

“For the avoidance of doubt: me, my coaching staff, my players and my backroom team take a stand against racism and all forms of unacceptable and discriminatory behaviour across society. We do so to raise awareness of the ongoing problem but also as a reminder to those who have the ultimate power and responsibility to implement meaningful change. 

“In light of divisive and inaccurate comments being perpetuated by individuals and groups, whose views we denounce in the strongest terms, we have reflected today as a group. We remain committed to our principles of taking a stand but we must also be unequivocal in condemning the opportunistic false narrative being presented by some.

“We have therefore agreed that we will show solidarity with our counterparts in England, many of whom are teammates of our own players, and who have found themselves on the receiving end of abuse from fans in recent international matches. 

“We will continue to take a stand – together, as one – for our matches at Hampden Park. For our match at Wembley, we will stand against racism and kneel against ignorance.”

Scotland captain Andy Robertson added: “Our position was – and remains – that the focus must be on meaningful change to fight discrimination in football and wider society.

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“In Scotland, the football family has stood against racism all season. It was our collective view that the national team would do the same.

“Our stance is that everyone, players, fans, teams, clubs, federations, governing bodies and governments must do more. Meaningful action is needed if meaningful change is to occur.

“But it is also clear, given the events around the England national team, taking the knee in this tournament matters as a symbol of solidarity.

“For this reason, we have collectively decided to again take the knee as a team for the fixture against England at Wembley Stadium.

“The Scotland team stands against racism but we will kneel against ignorance and in solidarity on June 18th.”

Scotland play Czech Republic at Hampden on June 14 before travelling to face England at Wembley four days later. The last group game is at Hampden against Croatia on June 22.


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