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Nicola Sturgeon calls for stronger UK COVID-19 restrictions

Kate Forbes and Nicola Sturgeon - Image credit: Jane Barlow/PA Wire/PA Images

Nicola Sturgeon calls for stronger UK COVID-19 restrictions

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for urgent four-nations talks to tighten COVID-19 restrictions. 

Sturgeon said that scientific opinion is that stronger measures are needed to reduce the rate at which the coronavirus is spreading across the UK. 

She said that if Johnson did not want to introduce further restrictions that further powers would be needed “to ensure that devolved administrations are not constrained in making what they judge to be essential public health decisions”.

Sturgeon’s letter comes as the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that he will not deliver an autumn budget and will instead reveal a replacement for the job retention scheme which is due to end in October. 

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes called the decision “breath-taking in its disregard” for devolved governments. 

The Scottish Government has repeatedly called on the UK Government to extend furlough hand over more borrowing powers to Scotland so that  workers can be protected if tighter lockdown restrictions come into place. 

Tighter restrictions are already in place in Scotland compared with England, as the Scottish Government banned indoor visiting by other households. 

Sturgeon has previously said that she would likely have gone further in announcing new restrictions if she had more power over furlough. 

In her letter to Johnson, she said that this week “marks a pivotal moment in our collective response to COVID-19”. 

She said that while governments across the UK had announced new restrictions this week, that she was convinced by scientific opinion that more was needed in order to bring the R number - the rate at which the virus spreads from person to person - back down to manageable levels. 

Sturgeon said: “there is clearly a significant strand of scientific opinion to the effect that bringing R back below one and the virus back under control will require measures beyond those which any of us have so far announced. 

“In my view, there is considerable force in that opinion.”

Sturgeon said that lessons needed to be learned from the governments’ handling of the initial virus outbreak in March, suggesting that acting quickly now may save lives. 

She said: “It is also the case - and we know this from our experience earlier in the year - that acting quickly and decisively against the virus is essential. 

“In other words, if we believe further actions will be required, there is nothing to be gained - and potentially much to be lost, including lives - from delay.”

Sturgeon asked for urgent meetings with the UK Government to discuss what further actions may be necessary and also what economic support would be available. 

She added that if a four-nations approach could not be agreed that more details would be needed on what arrangements could be put in place so that devolved administrations are not “constrained in making what they judge to be essential public health decisions because they lack the financial flexibility to provide support to affected sectors or individuals”. 

Sturgeon said that she would be happy to discuss plans with Johnson or Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.

The BBC reports that a UK government spokesperson said: "The prime minister held a Cobra meeting on Tuesday which was attended by the leaders of the devolved administrations.

"This crisis has shown clearly the value of Scotland being part of a strong United Kingdom, with the UK government providing the bulk of Covid testing in Scotland, the UK's armed forces playing a key role in providing support for Scottish communities, and the UK Treasury playing an absolutely critical role in supporting jobs and business across Scotland.

"We will continue to tackle this pandemic as one United Kingdom."

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