Nicola Sturgeon 'actively considering' putting Scots travel ban in law

Scotland's First Minister has revealed she is considering a new law to enforce regional travel restrictions to combat coronavirus, but rejected the suggestion such a move would lead to police on council borders or that it was an “over-reach” of the government.

Appearing at Holyrood's Covid committee, Nicola Sturgeon said reducing travel plays an important role in preventing Covid-19 spreading to areas of low prevalence and she was “actively considering” giving existing guidance not to move between areas a “legal underpinning” in future weeks.

Quizzed about the potential new laws to restrict travel at the government's daily briefing, she said the decision did not "sit easily” but not acting to prevent transmission would be worse.

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Motorists pass a motorway gantry sign on the M8 earlier this week

Asked if this was "state over-reach" into people’s lives, she said: “This is not an inappropriate over-reach of the state, if it is that. It's about keeping people safe and we have to make sure checks and balances are right.”

She added: “We're in an unprecedented situation. I'm acutely aware every day of what the state, the government, is asking people to do and on occasion mandating people to do through the law. None of that sits easily, or should sit easily, with a democratic politician, but we’re facing a deadly virus and unfortunately all these things become part and parcel [of it].

"Obviously parliamentary scrutiny is important and we're moving into a phase to try and strengthen and bring forward the scrutiny of parliament on the laws and regulations we’re passing. But the worst thing anyone in government can do right now is not act quickly when required and not take the action necessary to stop the virus transmitting."

People in level three areas of Scotland are already advised to avoid leaving their local authority boundaries unless essential, while those in areas with lower levels are told to "minimise unnecessary journeys between areas in different levels". Scots are also advised to avoid unnecessary travel to other parts of the UK.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed plans for travel restrictions in law at the Scottish Parliament's Covid-19 Committee.

Ms Sturgeon said that moving away from a national lockdown to a regional one, meant it was important to have more "emphasis on travel restrictions otherwise you take the virus from low prevalence areas to high prevalence areas”.

She said: "We all recognise that when something is in law more people realise it's important and it does give police the ability, if they have evidence people are flagrantly breaching the law, to take action. But these these things are all careful balances and judgements."

Pressed on whether restricting freedom of movement in this way went against the European Convention of Human Rights, she said the government was "bound" to be ECHR compliant”. “What may be judged completely unacceptable in a normal situation you have to see through a different prism when it's about protecting people's lives,” she said.

"You have to balance all these things. It's not respecting anyone's human rights right now to allow a virus to spread unchecked. These things are never absolutely black and white, but we try and make these judgements in the best way we can."

There was no information on potential enforcement procedures, but Ms Sturgeon said Covid breaches were already dealt with by fixed penalty notices.

“Given we haven’t taken final decisions I don't want to be definitive in ruling anything in or out," she said.

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