Scottish Government will go ‘at least as far’ as UK Government on quarantine
The Scottish Government will go “at least as far” as the UK Government in strengthening quarantine, Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said.
This could include the use of quarantine hotels, a measure which is under consideration by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The preference is for this to be a common approach across the UK, but although the Scottish Government had been in contact with the UK Government on quarantine, Swinney said they did not know what the it intended to announce or when.
Updating parliament on COVID restrictions, the Deputy First Minister said border controls would “work best on a four-nation basis”.
He added that it could be “problematic” if Scotland established supervised quarantine and England did not once unrestricted travel across the border restarts.
Swinney said: “The Scottish Government believes that a comprehensive system of supervised quarantine is required and so I can confirm that the Scottish Government will initially go at least as far as any UK Government announcement in enhancing quarantine arrangements, including through the use of hotels.
“However, if these UK restrictions are at a minimal level, we will look at other controls we can announce including additional supervised quarantine measures that can further protect us from importation of the virus and we will set those out next week.”
Johnson is making a statement at 5pm this evening, which may include changes to quarantine measures.
Swinney also announced a further £30m of funding for further and higher education.
This will be made up of £20m to help students who are experiencing hardship as a result of coronavirus and £10m for colleges and universities who have lost income from rentals of student accommodation.
He said an announcement would be made “soon” about extending eligibility for grants for those who are self-isolating.
The Scottish Greens have called for the proposals for quarantine hotels to be extended to communities to help people to self-isolate.
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “Limiting the influx of the virus into the country is important, but so too is the effectiveness of the test and trace system.
“Quarantine hotels have been used successfully in other countries.
“But for months the Scottish Greens have been asking the Scottish Government to use our hotel capacity to help those who do not have the financial or practical resources to self-isolate.
“The Deputy First Minister acknowledges that most hotel rooms lie empty, so it’s not good enough to say they are still considering it nine months later.
“It’s time to use them to ensure as many people can self-isolate as possible and drive down the infection rate.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservatives accused the Scottish Government of being too slow in rolling out the coronavirus vaccine.
Scottish Government figures showing that 437,900 people in Scotland have now received a first dose of the vaccine, but the UK Government has stated that 984,000 vaccine doses have been supplied to Scotland, suggesting over half a million doses are available and unused.
Scottish Conservative MSP Jamie Greene said the Scottish Government’s rollout of the vaccine had been “slow and sluggish” and called for Swinney to commit to publishing each health board’s vaccination plan “so that the public know what is going on, right across Scotland”.
“People do not understand why the Government has half a million doses of the vaccine sitting there, unused,” he said.
“The SNP’s vaccination plan says that those doses are available for ‘next day delivery’, but we know that the vaccines are not getting out to general practitioners quickly enough.”
But Swinney said the Scottish Government did not have the other 500,000 vaccines, suggesting they were allocated rather than received.
He said: “As I have rehearsed – and as other ministers have – there are not, in our hands in Scotland, 500,000 doses of the vaccine that can be used at this present moment.
“More vaccines have been allocated to Scotland than the number that we have in our hands.
“Those will be drawn down as soon as the distributors are able to verify the supplies and to distribute them to us in Scotland. That is the orderly path that we are taking.”
Greene also questioned why some over-70s were being asked to travel miles to vaccine appointments rather than receiving it from their GP and called for an end to the “postcode lottery”.
Swinney said it was “for a very good reason” that some of the vaccinations will be given in centres other than local GP practices because those centres could carry out vaccination in significant volumes, which was suited to delivery of the Pfizer vaccine because it comes in much larger batches than the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“There is a clear rationale for taking that approach,” he said.