Nicola Sturgeon has said introducing quarantine for people coming to Scotland from England is being considered, as she raised fears Boris Johnson was letting the coronavirus “circulate” south of the border.
The first minister said “all options” would be explored to try to stop a Covid-19 resurgence, as she failed to rule out such measures for those crossing the Scotland/England border.
No new deaths for fourth day on the trot
As no new Scottish deaths were recorded for the fourth day in a row, Ms Sturgeon also took a swipe at the prime minister, suggesting his coronavirus strategy fell short of trying to eliminate the disease.
At her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon also revealed the Scottish Government was still considering its response to Mr Johnson’s plans to create “air bridges”, whereby holiday-makers could fly to some European countries without having to quarantine for 14 days when they come back.
Ms Sturgeon complained the air bridges – or air corridors – proposals were announced last week without consultation with the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Government wanted to take more time to consider the public health impact of the plan, but a decision would be made in “a couple of days”, the first minister said.
Although she could see the advantages of developing a consistent approach across the four nations of the UK, she warned Scotland “cannot simply be dragged along in decisions we have no knowledge of”.
She also said quarantine measures could become “more important” in Scotland as the infection rate falls north of the border. Although border control is under Westminster control, Ms Sturgeon pointed out that quarantine measures were part of public health, which is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
From a public health perspective, we have to be able to consider all options if it is required to try to stop a resurgence of infection in Scotland.”
When asked about the possibility of people travelling from elsewhere in the UK north of the border having to quarantine, Ms Sturgeon replied there were no plans “right now”, but nothing was being ruled out.
She said the issue should not be viewed through the “prism” of the Scottish constitutional debate, claiming it would be informed by public health considerations.
But she asked people to look at other areas of the world, like New York and New Jersey, where travellers were being asked to quarantine if coming from Covid hotspots. She said similar arrangements were in force in Germany’s Landers.
“From a public health perspective, we have to be able to consider all options if it is required to try to stop a resurgence of infection in Scotland,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“If we want to get back to normal and we want to see our children back in school in August, we must keep infection rates low.”
Ms Sturgeon said the way to ensure that quarantine arrangements would not be needed at the Anglo-Scottish border was “to get as close to elimination” of the virus “as possible”.
“I would really welcome a statement from the prime minister that England’s strategy was about trying to eliminate the virus as well (as the Scottish Government’s strategy),” Ms Sturgeon said.
“As opposed to what it appears to be, to me, perhaps letting it circulate at higher levels as long as it doesn’t threaten to overwhelm the National Health Service. So, we have to keep these things under review if we want to keep our levels of infection as low as we can get them.”
Ms Sturgeon expressed further frustration with the lack of communication with the UK Government when she revealed there had not been a Cobra meeting “for weeks”, a state of affairs she described as “regrettable”.
Cobra is the UK Government emergency committee, which Scottish Government representatives attend. Ms Sturgeon, however, did concede that there had been other meetings involving members of the UK and Scottish governments. They included one that morning between Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf and Michael Gove to discuss air bridges.
Ms Sturgeon’s failure to rule out quarantine for people travelling to Scotland from the rest of the UK angered Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw.
Mr Carlaw said: “The first minister needs to rule out any attempt to close off Scotland from the rest of the UK.
“While it may be that localised lockdowns will be needed to deal with individual flare-ups over the months ahead, they should be handled as such.
“This should not be used as an issue to drive a wedge between Scotland and England.”
North East Lib Dem MSP Mike Rumbles said the Scottish Government should co-operate with the UK Government when it came to air bridges.
“This nationalist agenda risks further damage to the UK aviation industry and the thousands of jobs dependent upon it here in Scotland,” Mr Rumbles said.
“No evidence has been provided by the Scottish Government as to why these quarantine arrangements must stay in place in Scotland alone. If it exists, I want ministers to publish this evidence straight away.
“We do not even know if the measures that are in place are working because the Scottish Government has failed to provide that information. As each week goes by, this looks more and more like a Scottish Government going back to the same old squabbling and nationalist party politics.”