'Stop treating Scots like children' with Covid shopping warnings, say Tories

Scots have been told to avoid Boxing Day sales amid fears the Christmas period could spark a rise in cases of Covid-19 and lead the country into a post-festive period lockdown.

Members of the public carry shopping on Buchanan Street in Glasgow. Picture: PA
Members of the public carry shopping on Buchanan Street in Glasgow. Picture: PA

The warnings came as the health secretary Jeane Freeman remained tight-lipped on the potential for stricter restrictions after Christmas, refusing to answer whether it should be considered “likely”.

Professor Linda Bauld, the chair of public health at the Usher Institute in Edinburgh University, also warned the more people who took advantage of Christmas restrictions, the more likely a lockdown would become.

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But the Scottish Tories criticised the impact of the “mixed messaging” on high street retailers in the countdown to Christmas, saying Scots should be free to go shopping if they wished.

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Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing on Friday, health secretary Jeane Freeman was asked what her message would be to those planning on taking advantage of the Boxing Day sales.

Responding, Ms Freeman said nothing in the sales was worth the risk of transmitting Covid-19.

She said: "The simple thing I would say is avoid crowded places, we keep saying that.

"Boxing Day sales are notoriously crowded places. Please avoid crowded places.

"There can be nothing in those sales that is worth that risk, so please don’t take it.”

Ms Freeman also called on shoppers to leave a shop if it was crowded.

She said: “Any shop that is crowded – don't go, and if you do go and you find that it's crowded, please don't go in; leave.

"That's not new advice. That's been our advice for some weeks now.

"It's about avoiding crowded places, because where there are crowded places then that's where the virus has yet another excellent chance to move from one person to another."

She was backed up on the topic by national clinical director Jason Leitch.

He said: “I completely agree. I had written down ‘online’ and underlined it three times.

"That may not be popular with retailers and I am deeply sorry, but it is really risky to go to the crowds so please try to avoid that.”

But Scottish Conservative shadow economy secretary Maurice Golden said: "The high street has been devastated by lockdown and ongoing pandemic restrictions.

"Many big retailers have gone bust with others fighting for survival.

"Everyone must always adhere to the guidance, but people should be free to go shopping if they wish.

"The mixed messaging and confusing guidance is bad enough, but this SNP government needs to stop treating us like children."

The Scottish Government’s Cabinet is set to review the coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday before a decision is announced to MSPs, where it is likely to include details of any post-Christmas lockdown.

Ms Freeman said: “Nothing at this point can sensibly be ruled out, but we will look at what the information we have tells us, the judgments we think are the right judgments to make, and we will make that clear on Tuesday when the First Minister speaks in the Scottish Parliament.

“Every possible option remains on the table.”

The comments came as Northern Ireland is set for a six-week lockdown from December 26 to curb rising cases – with the closure of non-essential retail and contact services, as well as restricting the hospitality sector to takeaway only.

Wales will also go into its third full lockdown from December 28 amid a “sustained rise in coronavirus”.

Ms Freeman also revealed Scotland had recorded 36 deaths from coronavirus and 744 positive tests in the past 24 hours.

She said: “All of us continue to take what we want to be the right decisions and we work very hard to make sure they are the right decisions for our particular circumstances and that has been the case throughout.

"Undoubtedly the situation in Northern Ireland is significantly more challenging than the one we face right now, but that shouldn’t mean we are complacent about the situation we face right now.

"The normal weekly review is underway and we will, as a Cabinet, discuss that on Tuesday and make that announcement on Tuesday.”

Prof Bauld warned the more people taking advantage of the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions over Christmas, the higher the likelihood of a New Year lockdown.

She said the key to avoiding stricter restrictions after Christmas was whether hospital and intensive care capacity was predicted to stay at acceptable levels.

Prof Leitch had earlier said hospitals in Scotland were “coping” and not "ringing alarm bells”, but warned the situation was “very fragile”.

Prof Bauld said: “If you look at hospital capacity, it is looking not too bad. The thing that is worrying me in terms of the data is that this week there are only four local authority areas were numbers declined.

"The numbers are all going in the wrong direction everywhere else.”

The public health expert said it was difficult to predict what would happen after Christmas, but warned the more people who took advantage of the relaxation around restrictions, the more likely it was that stricter rules would come into effect in January.

Prof Bauld said: "It is dependent on what people do over Christmas. If people take advantage of the relaxation of restrictions, then the government will have no choice but to bring in stricter restrictions in January.

"January is really a problem. It is too early for the vaccines to have any effect and it is a risky time of year.

"Unless you are going to see more restrictions, you are not going to see numbers go down. They could hold a steady state, but the key thing is that there must be hospital capacity and ICU capacity.”

Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health and one of Prof Bauld’s colleagues at Edinburgh University, agreed, taking to social media to call for a “tightening” of restrictions “instead of easing”.

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