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