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by Andrew Learmonth
16 December 2021
Nicola Sturgeon fears UK could be about to 'sleepwalk into an emergency'

Nicola Sturgeon fears UK could be about to 'sleepwalk into an emergency'

Nicola Sturgeon has warned the country could be about to “sleepwalk into an emergency” unless the UK Government increases financial support for businesses. 

In an unscheduled briefing ahead of First Minister’s Questions, the SNP leader told MSPs that the Omicron variant would be the dominant strain of Covid in Scotland by tomorrow.

Sturgeon said she was "profoundly concerned by the scale and immediacy of the challenge Omicron poses".

She said: "Even if Omicron’s impact on individual health is milder than other variants - and we have no evidence of that yet - many will still become severely unwell and die, and the sheer number of people infected will present a massive challenge.

"In London, where transmission of Omicron is currently the highest in the UK, hospital admissions are now rising sharply.

"If we don’t act now, what we have feared all along but so far avoided - the overwhelming of the NHS - could happen.

"Let me be clear, this is not a choice between protecting health and protecting the economy.

"A surge in infections will cause - is already causing - staff absences that will also cripple the economy and critical services."

The First Minister toughened her advice to Scots, telling them to “please stay at home much more than you normally would.”

She added: "Right now, the risk of getting Covid from interactions with others is high and rising.

"So ask yourself before doing anything you might have planned over the coming days - is it as safe as it needs to be, and is it vital enough to justify that risk."

She said: "I suspect what is most important to most of us over the next couple of weeks is having time with our families at Christmas.

"Every interaction we have before then increases the risk of us getting Covid and losing that.

"More generally, I suspect what matters most to us - I know this is my view - is protecting children’s education.

"So by acting to reduce community transmission, we will also help keep schools open safely.

"Given what I am being advised about the risk Omicron poses to health and the economy, I would not be fulfilling my duty if I failed to give this advice.

"I would not be acting in good conscience."

The First Minister also called on Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to offer more financial support to firms. Though she didn’t call for furlough or loans directly, she said businesses needed “the type and scale of financial support that was available earlier in the pandemic.”

“There are simply no mechanisms available to the devolved administrations to trigger the finance needed to support such schemes. We need the UK government to act - urgently and in the way some other countries are already doing," she said.

Sturgeon told MSPs she had written to Boris Johnson, asking for a phone call on Thursday afternoon to discuss additional support.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross accused the government of confusing businesses after ministers contradicted each other over when details of the new rules would be published, and when they would be implemented.

Earlier today, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf initially said they’d be published today before  John Swinney said it would be tomorrow. However, he later apologised and the guidance was then released during First Minister’s Questions.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Anas Sarwar asked Sturgeon about cancer waiting times, saying swift action was needed. He asked the First Minister what action the government was taking to avoid a “cancer catastrophe”.

“There have already been over 400 more cancer deaths than were expected this year. That is higher than 293 last year. This is getting worse, not better. First Minister, in March, long before Omicron, you said we are now focused on getting the NHS back to normal. But there are plenty of examples of people having to wait too long for treatment.”

Sturgeon said progress had been made: “Health services all over the world are struggling to get back to normal because of the continued and increasing, at times, pressure that the virus is placing on us. So we have invested we continue to invest early in the detect cancer programme.”

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