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by Andrew Learmonth
29 December 2021
No changes to isolation rules as Nicola Sturgeon urges Scots to 'stay at home more than normal'

No changes to isolation rules as Nicola Sturgeon urges Scots to 'stay at home more than normal'

There will be no changes to Covid restrictions, with the First Minister saying it was too soon to cut the number of days in Scotland's isolation period. 

Currently, people have to self-isolate for 10 days if they test positive for the virus north of the border, as opposed to seven days in England.

Yesterday, the United States halved their self-isolation requirement from 10 days to just five.

In a virtual statement to MSPs, Nicola Sturgeon said that while there were grounds for optimism in the fight against Omicron, the government needed more time to look at the data before changing isolation rules. 

The First Minister said a decision on changing the rules could be reached by next week.

There were no other restrictions announced, as the SNP leader revealed that a total of 15,849 positive Covid cases were reported yesterday, the highest recorded number yet. 

The First Minister said this represents 28.9 per cent of all tests carried out, which she said could be a result of people being more selective about when to go for a test over the Christmas period.

A total of 679 people are in hospital in Covid, 80 more than yesterday while 36 people are in intensive care, one fewer than yesterday. A further three deaths have been reported.

The First Minister said officials were working on the assumption there would continue to be a steep increase in cases. 

She told MSPs that it was likely the current surge would have been even higher "but for so many people following advice to cut down on social interactions in the run up to Christmas".

Sturgeon hailed new studies published before Christmas which showed the risk of hospitalisation from Omicron is potentially significantly lower than for other strains of the virus.

"The rise in cases experienced over the past few weeks has not translated into a corresponding rise in hospital admissions or occupancy, on the contrary, the number of people in hospital with Covid has so far remained broadly stable.  

"However, again, we do need to exercise caution. Numbers in hospital with Cvoid in England is now rising quite sharply. This may be a sign of things to come here."

She said: "Of course, in terms of sheer numbers, the benefits of a lower rate of hospitalisation could be quickly cancelled out by the much higher case numbers."

The First Minister said the government would soon "have a clearer picture".

Opposition parties accused Sturgeon of indecision for not cutting the self-isolation period.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross told MSPs: “Last week, I again asked the First Minister to make changes to self-isolation rules – to allow household contacts to end self-isolation if they have a negative PCR result and to reduce the isolation period from ten days to seven if they test negative twice.

“However, the First Minister’s message today on these essential changes is yet again ‘to tune in next week’. We have the ground-breaking Omicron study showing while it is more transmissable, it is less severe.

“Businesses across Scotland are struggling with the impact of these restrictions at what should be their busiest time of the year and many of the same businesses are also affected by these self-isolation rules.

“Absences and a lack of staff cover will mean premises having to close early or not open at all despite staff members testing negative.

“I’ve been speaking to businesses throughout the festive period and they are trying to plan for the next few weeks and months but the First Minister’s indecision on these self-isolation rules is continuing to cause them trouble to plan for the period ahead.”

The First Minister said it was “one of the most important and actually one of the most difficult decisions" her government will have to take.

Replying to Ross, she said: “We are still taking a few more days because we have a very rapidly rising number of cases right now which is both a reason to do this, but also a reason to be cautious about doing it.

“If we release people from isolation while they may still be infectious then yes we will relieve some of the pressure that we are seeing on the economy and that is not to be underestimated but that will be short-lived because the risk we take is that we will actually accelerate the spread of the virus and then that pressure on the economy will increase in the medium to long-term.”

Labour leader Anas Sarwar urged the First Minister to "set out what scientific evidence she is relying on to justify delaying making any changes to self-isolation rules."

He added: “Every restriction has a knock-on effect for workers and businesses, particularly in hospitality and retail.

“So, I repeat calls for the UK Government to work with devolved governments to support workers at this time of crisis – many of whom are fighting for survival. 

“Every restriction means lost revenue for businesses that were often already fighting for survival, and some industries appear to have fallen through the cracks.”

Sturgeon said it was to do with the incubation period: "We know that people can become infectious and test positive for the virus after a period of seven days. In fact, if we cast our minds back to the earlier part of the pandemic, the isolation period, it wasn't 10 days as it is now, it used to be 14 days. So it already has been shortened, which has introduced greater risk into this.

"So if we're going to do that further for good reasons, we have to be aware that we increase that risk and if we get that wrong, we increase the risk too much, then any benefit from that would be outweighed by the faster spread of the virus which would not solve the problem for businesses, it will compound the absence problem for businesses."

The Scottish Government introduced new measures on Boxing Day which included one-metre physical distancing at large events, with limits of 100 people standing indoors, 200 people sitting indoors and 500 people outdoors.

There are also new rules on social gatherings, with groups in bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, gyms and venues limited to three households. 

Table service was also made a requirement at places where alcohol is served and nightclubs have been ordered to close their doors until January 17. 

That effectively means Hogmanay parties and events cannot go ahead.

In her update, the First Minister urged Scots to “stay at home more than normal” over the next few days and for “at least the first week in January”.


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