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19 November 2020
FM: I will be straight with public about Christmas risks

FM: I will be straight with public about Christmas risks

Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants to be “straight” with the public about the risks of easing coronavirus restrictions around Christmas.

Speaking during FMQs she said that the Scottish Government is working on a series of “concrete proposals” to be published next week setting out in more detail what types of restrictions could be relaxed over the Christmas period.

She said plans would need to be “sensible and safe” in order to avoid increased loss of life in January.

But opposition parties have called on the First Minister to be more specific on what the plans around Christmas and into January are.

Plans for the Christmas period were being drawn up in conjunction with the UK, Welsh and Northern Irish governments.

Sturgeon said that measures would have to be synched to some extent across the four nations because of family patterns across the UK.

Students, army personnel and others would be supported, Sturgeon said, and the necessary public transport plans will be arranged.

But Sturgeon warned about the potential for more mixing of people in the festive period to lead to a surge in the virus and potentially the reintroduction of tight restrictions in January.

She said that the Scottish Government would attempt to “strike the right balance between the understandable desire which I shared to see family over the Christmas period which is so special to so many of us, but also to do that in a way that does not lead to increase loss of life and increased harm to health over the January period.”

Asked by Scottish Conservatives Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson what predictions the Scottish Government is making for restrictions in January, Sturgeon said she would not “speculate” about the details.

But she warned that driving levels of the virus down before Christmas would be key both to the amount of easing that would be possible and the level of harm caused by people coming together.

Sturgeon said: “Firstly, when we have infection levels at the stable but high level as we do across the central belt right now, any increase would very quickly overwhelm, potentially, our national health service, so we've got to get it down for that reason, because we know, and whether it's in the way SAGE has set out or in some other, we know people coming together over Christmas will increase the transmission risk.

“But the other reason to get infection levels down now is that if there are fewer people by the time we get to Christmas in the population who have COVID, then by definition, there is lower risk of people getting together and one person in that group having the virus, and therefore passing on.

“So for both of these reasons we give ourselves the ability to perhaps ease a bit over Christmas in a safer way than we would if infection levels remained at the level they are right now.”

She added: “If relaxing at Christmas involves any implications in January, then of course we will set that out fully but I want to make sure we have fully considered and understood all of those implications so the what we set out to the public is full and is delivered in a straight and open a way as possible.”

Davidson welcomed clarity the published proposals will bring, adding people were “living week-to-week” and needed to be able to plan.

She said: “Further restrictions were explained to us as suppressing the virus for its own sake, but also to allow us hope of some form of contact this Christmas.

“We need to know if these current restrictions are the price for relaxation this Christmas or, as government medical advisor Dr Susan Hopkins has suggested, the bill that will be paid by us all in the New Year with a January shutdown.

“People have been living week-to-week for eight months now and they need to be able to plan. That’s why I welcome the First Minister’s response that the government will next week publish plans for what families can expect over Christmas and the loneliness strategy that we requested in October.

“These four-nations talks on Christmas planning are essential, and we urge the Scottish and UK governments to work together so that all military personnel can get home for Christmas and the rest of the country can plan for some form of family contact, too.”

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