Nicola Sturgeon eases Covid restrictions on large scale outdoor events
Fans will be allowed back into large scale sporting events from next Monday after Nicola Sturgeon eased some of the Covid rules that have been in place since last month.
Removing the attendance limit of 500 will mean full stadiums for next week's football matches and the Scotland v England Six Nations rugby game in Murrayfield at the start of February.
However, there was disappointment from hospitality bosses, after the First Minister confirmed restrictions would remain in place for pubs and nightclubs for at least another week.
In her statement to MSPs, the SNP leader said there were grounds for optimism, with the outbreak of Omicron not being as bad as initially feared.
She warned that the position was “still fragile and significant uncertainties remain.”
The First Minister told MSPs the restrictions put in place last month had made a difference: “Our central projection last month was that new infections could reach 50,000 a day by early January. This has not so far materialised. Instead, we estimate that the total number of new infections a day in early January - not just those recorded through positive PCR tests - may have been around 30,000.
“In other words, it is very likely that the situation we face now, though serious, would have been even more challenging without the renewed sacrifices made by people across the country over these last few weeks.”
The number of people hospitalised with the virus has slowed down this week. It initially increased from 594 two weeks ago to 1,147 this time last week, an increase of 553. This week it rose to 1,479, an increase of 332.
Updating MSPs on the change in restrictions, she said the Covid certification scheme will remain in place for those and other events and venues previously covered, but with two changes.
“Firstly, our guidance will now stipulate that the organisers of large events of 1,000 or more people should check the certification status of at least 50 per cent of attendees, rather than the current 20 per cent, or at least 1,000 people - whichever figure is higher.
“And, second, from Monday the requirement to be ‘fully vaccinated’ for the purposes of Covid certification will include having a booster if the second dose was more than four months ago.”
She warned MSPs it may “be necessary to consider again if extending the scope of Covid certification to other venues might be a necessary protection.”
“To be clear, we have not yet taken any decisions on this and it will require careful judgment. But I want to be clear to Parliament today that it is something we feel bound to give appropriate consideration to,” she said.
Responding to the statement, the Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross questioned the restrictions still in place. He said: “The latest data shows that we are in a far more positive position than the government was expecting.
“The projections in December have not come to pass. We may have already passed the peak of Omicron.
“The success of Scotland and the UK’s vaccination scheme is clear.
“The actions of the general public have worked. People across Scotland got their booster. Took tests. Self-isolated when they needed to. They were cautious to protect their families’ health, and especially careful around the vulnerable.
“That’s why the data is more positive. It’s not because of government restrictions but because of people’s good sense.
“The people of Scotland got this right, not the government.”
He urged the First Minister “to trust their judgement more as we move forward.”
“We should now be looking to get a balance that is much more in favour of our economy and wider public health concerns around physical and mental health,” he added.
Labour’s Anas Sarwar called for a new approach to tackling the pandemic.
He said: “This means building resilience back into the heart of the NHS, but also into our economy, and recognising the toll the past two years has taken on the mental health of so many Scots.
“People cannot live their lives waiting for ad hoc updates on what the rules will be day-to-day.
“Businesses and workers cannot plan for the future properly if they cannot predict the Government's response.
“I welcome that the First Minister now recognises the need for a proper framework.
“This must include clear trigger points for any future restrictions, such as the rate of infections, hospitalisations and staff absences. It should also set out what financial support will be available and under what conditions.”
Dr Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said it was "incredibly disappointing" that there was be no immediate further lifting of restrictions on hospitality.
She said: “The Scottish Government need to support all businesses by removing legal restrictions that limit capacity, depress profitability and makes it difficult for businesses to survive and grow. Business will be encouraged however that these remaining restrictions may finally be lifted from the 24th January.
“As we adjust to ‘living with Covid-19’ and the threat of new variants, it’s essential that the lifting of restrictions keep pace and that testing and vaccines take priority.
“In the meantime, businesses urgently need the financial support promised to them to be delivered as quickly as possible and additional financial support is made available should restrictions remain in place any longer.”
Ahead of the statement, the First Minister was carpeted by Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone after details of her speech were leaked to press.
She told MSPs: "I should not be reading in the media that they have seen a draft copy of the statement before it has been made to this Parliament. This is extremely disappointing and is disrespectful to this Parliament and its elected Members.
"I have spoken to the Minister for Parliamentary Business about this and he has informed me that the Government will be undertaking an inquiry into the leak.
"Now I will allow this statement to be delivered today because I cannot be assured that all elected members have seen the full draft and also that it's important that the public hear the full detail.
"But before I call the First Minister, I ask for an assurance from the First Minister of her commitment to the place of this Parliament being respected by her Government and her commitment to a repeat of this situation being avoided."
Sturgeon apologised and said the Scottish Government's chief information security officer will "be undertaking appropriate inquiries to establish if there has indeed been a leak of some of the content of the statement in advance of me delivering it and if so what the circumstances and the source of that are".