Analysis: Time for stricter border measures without excuses from Scottish Government

Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, has been consistent in her calls for stricter Covid-19 measures at the borders for several months.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during a visit to the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, to view preparations at the COVID-19 Vaccine Hub.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during a visit to the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, to view preparations at the COVID-19 Vaccine Hub.

Despite these calls – from one of the Scottish Government’s own scientific advisers – Nicola Sturgeon and her Cabinet have failed to act, instead relying on powderpuff measures such as mandatory – but rarely enforced – quarantine requirements for travellers from certain countries.

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However, eight months on from the initial lockdown, the UK Government and, by extension, the Scottish Government have imposed stricter measures.

For the first time in a pandemic that has claimed as many as 6,686 Scottish lives, people arriving into the country from abroad will have to provide proof of a negative test.

One has to ask why this has taken so long to come into force.

Not only is it clear the Scottish Government has the power to impose stricter measures along the lines of countries who have suppressed Covid-19 such as South Korea, but Scottish airports have been calling for such measures – partly for selfish reasons to keep the aviation industry alive – for almost the entire pandemic.

The political optics of being seen to be more stringent at the borders, through mandatory hotel quarantine, for example, properly enforced by the police, or mandatory on-arrival testing followed by a period of self-isolation provided by the government and paid for by the individual, would not have been good.

The Scottish Conservatives would likely have labelled it divisive and excessive and an example of the SNP driving a wedge between the UK and Scotland.

But the Scottish Government has a duty of care to its citizens that goes far beyond party politics.

The only other question is financial and whether the Scottish Government would have been able to pay for such a move.

Given there is £330m in the Scottish Government’s reserves – held back specifically to pay for the consequences of further measures – there are now no excuses for not having stricter measures effectively rather than passively enforced.

Scotland is tackling a rapidly accelerating pandemic with a highly transmissable virus. The country is in its second lockdown, with restrictions the First Minister is not convinced go far enough.

The Scottish Government have the power – they should now use it.

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