Nicola Sturgeon accused of ‘indecision’ over isolation as she declares New Year’s Eve remains cancelled
Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of “indecision” after she failed to cut coronavirus isolation times for those with the virus in Scotland with the news coming as cases north of the border reached a new record high.
The First Minister insisted consideration was being given to reducing the time people who had tested positive for Covid-19 had to remain in quarantine for, saying a decision on this would be made “in the next week”.
Any changes would then come into force from January 5, with Ms Sturgeon confirming ministers were also considering if household contacts of someone with Covid needed to remain in isolation if they had had a negative PCR test.
Speaking as she confirmed that Scotland had recorded a record-high 15,849 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the First Minister told a special online sitting of Holyrood that she hoped changes could be made.
England has already cut the quarantine time for those confirmed as having Covid, allowing them to end this if they return negative lateral flow tests on days six and seven of their isolation.
With stricter rules in Scotland impacting businesses and services, the Tories and Labour challenged Ms Sturgeon on the issue.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said while he had previously pushed the First Minister on this last week, her “message today on these essential changes is yet again to tune in next week”.
With studies having suggested the Omicron variant can result in less severe illness, the Tory hit out at “the First Minister’s indecision on the self-isolation rules”.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar similarly raised concerns about the impact isolation was having on staffing levels for both businesses and public services.
“Staff absences are spiking now and that is having knock-on effects on our services and on industry,” he said.
But Ms Sturgeon stressed the need to be “measured and responsible” when considering such issues.
She insisted: “What Douglas Ross describes as indecision is actually responsibility.
“That is the most important burden on my shoulders, to be as responsible and as measured in taking these decisions as possible.”
She added: “I know businesses are struggling, critical services are struggling with staff absences, but if case numbers continue to rise that will become more difficult.”
If we release people from isolation while they may still be infectious, yes, we will relieve some of the pressure we are seeing on the economy, but that will be short-lived, because the risk we take is we will actually accelerate the spread of the virus and that pressure on the economy will increase in the medium to longer term
She also explained how fluctuating case numbers over the Christmas period needed to “settle a little bit over the next few days” before any decision could be made.
While studies have shown Omicron is less severe than other variants, Ms Sturgeon stressed it was “important not to over-interpret these studies or get carried away by the initial data they provide”.
Speaking about such research, the First Minister said: “While they do suggest the hospitalisation rate associated with Omicron is lower than for other variants, perhaps significantly lower, that will not give us any benefit if the overall volume of cases cancels that out and leads to a higher number of people going into hospital overall.
“That is why it is really important we don’t allow the infection numbers to overwhelm us.”
She added: “If we release people from isolation while they may still be infectious, yes, we will relieve some of the pressure we are seeing on the economy, but that will be short-lived, because the risk we take is we will actually accelerate the spread of the virus and that pressure on the economy will increase in the medium to longer term.”
Speaking about the current requirement for people to isolate for 10 days if someone else in their home has coronavirus, Ms Sturgeon said: “I hope we can ease that up as well.”
But she stressed: “I don’t think anybody looking, particularly at the case numbers that are being reported today, would fail to see why it is important we take a very responsible approach to this.”
Her comments came as she confirmed that the existing restrictions on hospitality, events and retail were expected to remain in place until January 17.
New rules on social gatherings in Scotland came in to force on Monday, with meetings limited to three households at indoor and outdoor venues like bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and gyms.
A day earlier, restrictions were brought in to ensure one-metre physical distancing at large events, with limits of 100 people standing indoors, 200 people sitting indoors and 500 people outdoors.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Over Hogmanay and New Year’s Day, and for at least the first week in January, we are advising everyone to stay at home more than normal, to reduce contacts with people outside our own households, and to limit the size of any indoor social gatherings that do take place so that they don’t include people from any more than three households.”
The latest figures showed that 679 people were in hospital with Covid-19, a rise of 80 from the previous day.
A further three deaths had been recorded among those who had tested positive for the virus in the past 28 days, taking the total under this daily measurement to 9,836.
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