What will Nicola Sturgeon announce for Scotland in her Covid-19 statement today?
At 2pm, the Scottish Parliament will be recalled for just the fifth time in its 21 years, with the First Minister expected to announce new lockdown measures to combat the increasing spread of Covid-19 and its new variant.
The Scottish Cabinet met this morning to discuss whether there is a need to strengthen the existing level four restrictions further, returning to a March-style lockdown and forcing people to stay at home.
Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon said the 2,464 new Covid cases reported, 15.2 per cent of all tests carried out, was “further evidence that the new variant is accelerating transmission” and was the context for today's Cabinet decisions and recall of Parliament.
So what is she likely to announce today?
Last month the First Minister said she was considering strengthening current guidance on movement by putting it in law. “Our strong advice is to stay as local as possible and at home as much as possible,” she said. “We will be considering in the days ahead whether we need to place that advice in law.”
The Cabinet will have the latest data in the wake of the Christmas relaxation on which to base their decision, which could force many people to work from home again if possible. Key workers would likely be exempt from such a move, however, as they were back at the start of the pandemic.
It is likely such a move will be supported in Holyrood – as long as financial support for businesses is available.
The Cabinet was also expected to discuss whether schools should remain closed for the month of January as a circuit-breaker against the spread of coronavirus. It has been speculated the government's Education Recovery Group has recommended closure until February 1.
The Christmas holidays have already been extended for a week until January 11, with online learning kicking in before pupils were expected to return on January 18. Trade unions have been calling for schools to remain closed to protect staff and pupils, although different parents groups have taken opposing stances on the efficacy of closures.
Ms Sturgeon said in November that “contingency plans” were being developed should schools have to close again, so today there should be more detail on what those are and how vulnerable children will be supported if schools remain shut.
Questions will also be asked whether the 25,000 devices distributed to councils to enable pupils to access online learning have reached the children who need them.
Should a new lockdown take place, more financial support from government will be needed for businesses, especially retail and hospitality.
It is unclear whether there have been new discussions on support between the Scottish and UK governments, but Scotland's finance minister has called for a £98 billion “support package” that would be on a “par with recovery support provided by other countries such as New Zealand, France and Germany”.
Kate Forbes has also called for the furlough scheme and other coronavirus income support schemes to be extended "for as long as necessary”.
Just before Christmas the UK Government announced £400 million extra for the Scottish Government's Covid-19 response, bringing the total support to Scotland to £8.6bn since spring. The monies are on top of the furlough and self-employment schemes, business loans and VAT cuts for the hardest hit sectors.
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