Essential staff can be exempt from isolation in ‘very limited’ situations
Key workers in critical roles in Scotland will be able to avoid self-isolation after close contact with coronavirus if they are fully vaccinated and are tested daily, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
Isolation will not be required for close contacts of infected people if their work is deemed to be essential and staff shortages could impact upon sectors such as health and social care, transport and food supplies.
Affected industries will have to apply to the Scottish Government for staff to be exempt from the mandatory quarantine rules and health and social care staff are not included in the change.
If the government deems a critical role can be exempt, the worker will still have to prove they have had two doses of coronavirus vaccine at least two weeks prior to any close contact, have a negative PCR test and agree to carry out lateral flow tests for 10 days after the contact.
This is a very limited change at this stage, to be applied on a case-by-case basis and only where absolutely necessary
The Scottish Government announcement states that exemptions will be made on a temporary basis and last only for as long as there is an immediate risk to business or service continuity.
Ms Sturgeon said: “It is essential that lifeline services and critical national infrastructure are maintained and we are implementing these changes now – ahead of possible changes to self-isolation rules for close contacts that may apply more generally in future – to ensure staff shortages do not put key services at risk.
“We have seen significant staff shortages in a small number of organisations in recent days and we have worked with them to protect services.
“Applications for exemptions are being considered from today and we will consider applications as they come in.
“Clinical evidence tells us we can safely and effectively release some critical staff from self-isolation, with appropriate safeguards.
“However, this is a very limited change at this stage, to be applied on a case-by-case basis and only where absolutely necessary.
“We will not allow key services to be threatened by staff shortages, but equally we must continue to protect public health.”
Applications for isolation exemption can be made via the Scottish Government website and will be required to demonstrate the organisation is part of the country’s critical infrastructure, what steps have been taken to address pressure on the sector, and the impact of no action.
They will also have to set out the intended scope of exemption, such as the location and number of staff affected.
The Government says any exemption process for health, social care and local services will be different and announced at an as-yet-unconfirmed date.
Covid-19 cases in Scotland spiked early in the summer before beginning to fall in recent weeks.
The latest statistics show six coronavirus deaths and 1,505 new cases were recorded in the past 24 hours.
A total of 502 people were in hospital on Thursday with recently confirmed Covid-19, up 14 on the previous day, with 57 patients in intensive care, down one.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross welcomed the announcement as a “cautious step in the right direction to help key industries keep Scotland moving” but said the government had to clarify exactly who would be eligible to be exempt and for how long.
Mr Ross said: “There are also real concerns that the SNP are going to swamp businesses and individuals with layers of bureaucracy.
“The application process should be as smooth as possible at a time when businesses are already under huge pressure.
“Ministers must also tell the public if these limited changes now will have any effect on wider potential changes to self-isolation rules under the planned lifting of all restrictions next month.”
He added: “It is right we remain cautious when it comes to public health. However, SNP ministers must ensure that every resource required will be made available to guarantee companies can operate as smoothly as possible as a result of these changes.”
But the Unite trade union’s industrial officer, James O’Connell, questioned the “gamble” of allowing some people to avoid isolation and said: “There has been a growing number of cases of the Delta variant in Scotland and we can’t allow this to spiral out of control.
“While we understand there is a need and desire to return to normality, we have got to remember that vaccination is not immunisation.
“Unite’s members – particularly in those vulnerable sectors such as health and social care – are extremely worried that we could see a new spike in hospital admissions, and it is the staff on the frontline having to deal with this.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “We do need a plan to ease self-isolation requirements but the Government’s sticking plaster solution raises as many questions as answers.
“The current situation of staff shortages faced by businesses and essential services is not sustainable, but changes cannot come at the expense of frontline workers’ safety or public health.
“For this to work, there is a need for a robust and reliable testing scheme so that people can return to work safely.”