Scotland at tipping point in spread of the virus

Scotland is on “advance notice” of tighter Covid-19 restrictions, including a potential “circuit breaker” lockdown coming into force next week, as the country sits at a “critical point” in its fight against the renewed spread of the virus, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Friday, 18th September 2020, 11:22 pm
Updated Friday, 18th September 2020, 11:33 pm

The First Minister, speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing on Friday, told the country this weekend would be key in deciding what comes next and that “hard, but necessary” decisions would be made over the weekend.

The comments came as cases continue to rise across the UK. Scotland registered more than 200 new cases of the virus yesterday.

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Students asked to observe voluntary lockdown
Nicola Sturgeon warned of hard decisions ahead

Last night, Boris Johnson said it was “inevitable” the UK would be hit by a second wave of the virus and confirmed his government was looking at whether it was necessary to “go further” than the existing restrictions.

As an indication of the seriousness and fear of further spread of Covid-19, St Andrew’s University wrote to students asking them to participate in a “voluntary lockdown” over the weekend.

Ms Sturgeon said the UK was on a similar trajectory to France – which this week saw daily cases rise to about 10,000 – and sits around four weeks behind on the curve.

The national clinical director Jason Leitch also warned the Scottish Government was viewing the situation as being on “amber” alert, warning that further restrictions would be needed to stop the situation becoming more serious.

He said “fires are beginning to light” across the country, with restrictions viewed as necessary to stop the exponential spread of Covid-19.

Hard decisions ahead

A potential “circuit breaker” or “fire breaker” lockdown for a couple of weeks was described by Ms Sturgeon as “the kind of things we are thinking about”.

The First Minister said: “Today I want to give the nation advance notice, that the coming days are likely to see some hard, but necessary decisions. If we want to avoid another full-scale lockdown – which we all do – doing nothing almost certainly isn’t an option.

“This weekend will be critical in the assessment of how best to do that.”

It is understood no final decisions about the nature of the restrictions set to be introduced next week have been made, but reports from a meeting of the UK Government’s scientific advisory group Sage have suggested potential measures including a curfew on hospitality venues already seen in some local lockdowns in England could be extended UK-wide.

Speaking about potential additional measures, Ms Sturgeon said: “We need to act to interrupt that exponential growth.

“And above all we want to keep schools and childcare open because we know how important that is to the education and to the broader wellbeing of children and young people. We are seeing increasing numbers of places both here in Scotland and across the rest of the UK that are under local and regional restrictions.”

She added: “The bottom line here is that this virus is on the rise again.

“Our case numbers are not yet rising as fast as they were back in March, but they are rising again and they are rising quite rapidly.

“If we take early action, the hope is we can avoid more severe restrictions in the future. That is what this is about, it is partly about preventing something much tougher later down the line.”

Call for Cobra to meet

The First Minister also called on Mr Johnson to convene a meeting of the emergency response group Cobra over the weekend as devolved leaders across the UK took aim at the UK Government’s lack of dialogue over planned restrictions.

That call was later echoed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and came as Mayor of London Sadiq Khan revealed the group had not met since 10 May.

Ms Sturgeon was asked whether she agreed with Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales, who criticised Mr Johnson for an “unacceptable lack of Covid discussion between the four nations”.

She said she could not remember the last time she spoke to Mr Johnson directly, but added that discussions with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove on a four-nations basis had been “helpful”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Discussions across the four nations of the UK will, I hope, take place in the coming days.”

She added the talks could also do with “sometimes being a bit more meaningful, in terms of us actually discussing what we are going to do as opposed to hearing what the UK Government is going to do” – a view shared by Mr Drakeford.

The First Minister said: “I think it would be very helpful to have a PM-led, four nations Cobra-type discussion over this weekend because – this might sound like quite a dramatic thing to say given what we’ve all been through in the last six months – but the moment we are in right now is probably the most critical point of decision since the one we faced in late March.

“That’s why I think that discussion, at that level, with that urgency, is really appropriate this weekend.”

When asked whether she would attempt to stay aligned with the rest of the UK in any second lockdown, Ms Sturgeon said she retained the right to change Scotland’s restrictions if she believed it to be the right thing to do.

She said: “Ideally we will align as far as possible, but as I’ve said many times before, I, ultimately in Scotland, am responsible for these decisions.

“While I want to try to align because I think it makes sense in lots of ways, if there are things that I think based on my data and my advice that are essential in Scotland and other parts of the UK, which is their right, I am not going to hold back in doing what I think is necessary in Scotland.”

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In total, 203 people tested positive for Covid-19 in Scotland yesterday, the First Minister said, with one additional death connected to the disease registered.

Of the new cases, 69 were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 29 in Lanarkshire, and 30 in Lothian, with a total of 61 people in hospital with the virus, up by nine compared with Thursday.

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