Nicola Sturgeon

Sturgeon Won’t Rule Out Further Lockdowns, as Restrictions Partially Eased in Scotland

Restrictions have been partially eased in Scotland today, but it’s not all good news. Scots must continue to wear face masks on public transport and inside public spaces and, more worryingly, Nicola Sturgeon has refused to rule out introducing further lockdowns in the future, saying: “Keeping this virus under control depends on all of us continuing to do all of the sensible things I’ve been talking about.” She told BBC Breakfast (as quoted in the Guardian):

This has been a long, hard year-and-a-half, but we’ve got to continue to exercise care and caution – this virus is unpredictable, and I think it’s true that we underestimate it at our peril. …

Every fibre of my being hopes that the restrictions we are lifting today in Scotland will never, ever have to be imposed, and am I optimistic about that? Yes.

Can I guarantee it? Well, I could tell you that right now for the sake of an easier interview, but it wouldn’t be the right thing to say because keeping this virus under control depends on all of us continuing to do all of the sensible things I’ve been talking about.

We also know that this is a virus that has already mutated, new variants continue to be our biggest threat, so we’ve got to be careful and we’ve got to be realistic.

But I very much hope that all of that, coupled, of course, principally with the power of vaccination, will mean that never again do we have to face lockdowns.

Worth reading in full.

JCVI Could Recommend Giving 16 and 17 Year-Olds Covid Vaccine “In Days”, Says Nicola Sturgeon

16 and 17 year-olds in the U.K. could soon be called up to get vaccinated against Covid, according to Nicola Sturgeon. The Scottish First Minister suggested that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) could offer new advice “in the next few days” on the vaccination of this younger age group. The Guardian has the story.

Just two weeks after the [JCVI] recommended against routine vaccination of children, the Scottish First Minister revealed that she “hoped” over-16s would get the go-ahead to receive it after all.

Two Government sources confirmed that the JCVI was looking again at widening its recommendation for children over 12. Jabs for this age group are currently limited to those who are clinically vulnerable or live with someone at risk.

Anthony Harnden, a member of the committee, said: “JCVI is in the process of finalising updated advice on the offer of vaccination of children and young people.”

Ministers are believed to have been in favour of older children getting access to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, but the JCVI said they should not routinely be available to children who do not have a specific risk factor.

One of the concerns that the scientists raised, linked to the Pfizer jab, was about inflammation around the heart, with the JCVI concluding that the benefits did not outweigh the risk to those who would be receiving the jabs. …

Professor Rowland Kao, a participant in the the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) and an Epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Per capita, older teenagers currently have the highest risk of Covid infection, and vaccinating 16 and 17 year-olds should reduce this.” …

Making a statement to the Scottish parliament on Tuesday afternoon, Sturgeon said she was “hoping” to get the updated advice from the JCVI “over the next day or so”.

During the subsequent question-and-answer session with MSPs, Sturgeon said: “The JCVI are our advisory body so they have to give us the advice they think is right and I respect that. I am hoping it will recommend going further on the vaccination of young people.

“I am particularly concerned if possible to get vaccinations to 16 and 17 year-olds, which is obviously important for those who will be, for example, going to college and university and mingling with older young people who are vaccinated. But we’ll see what that advice brings and we stand ready to implement that as quickly as possible.”

She later said she was hoping and “veering towards expecting” the committee to recommend further vaccination of people in the 12 to 18 year-olds age group, and in particular “hopeful that we will see some updated recommendations in relation, as a priority as a first part of this, for 16 and 17 year-olds”.

Worth reading in full.

Lockdown “Likely” to be Extended in Scotland, Says Nicola Sturgeon

Scotland is set to follow in England’s footsteps in delaying the easing of its lockdown. Nicola Sturgeon says that restrictions will “likely” be maintained for three more weeks from June 28th to “buy ourselves sufficient time” to fully vaccinate more Scots. The Independent has the story.

Speaking in Holyrood, the First Minister did not rule out the further relaxation of rules – moving to Level Zero – on June 28th but said the Scottish Government wanted to “buy ourselves sufficient time” to allow the vaccination programme to continue its work.

She suggested that Scotland would not return to “much greater normality” until later in July at the earliest.

“Given the current situation – and the need to get more people fully vaccinated before we ease up further – it is reasonable to indicate now that I think it unlikely that any part of the country will move down a level from June 28th,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“Instead, it is likely that we will opt to maintain restrictions for a further three weeks from June 28th and use that time to [vaccinate] – with both doses – as many more people as possible.

“Doing that will give us the best chance, later in July, of getting back on track and restoring the much greater normality that we all crave.”

Ms Sturgeon said it was a “difficult and frustrating” development but “while this setback is not easy, it is worth remembering that we are living under far fewer restrictions now than was the case a few weeks ago”.

She added: “The current situation is not what any of us want – but equally it is not lockdown. And vaccination is – with every day that – helping us change the game.”

Level Zero is described as “near normal” but a number of restrictions still exist, including limits on the number of people individuals can meet socially in groups, and people are still advised to work from home where possible.

Worth reading in full.

Scottish Children Will Be Vaccinated “as Quickly as Possible”, Says Nicola Sturgeon

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is expected to tell U.K. leaders this month that the vaccination of children against Covid is a “political” decision, without offering a firm recommendation either way. If the use of the Pfizer vaccine in 12-16 year-olds is approved by the body, Nicola Sturgeon says Scottish children will be vaccinated “as quickly as possible”. The Telegraph reports that planning on a vaccine roll-out scheme for children aged 12 and over has started already.

In a statement at Holyrood, [the First Minister] acknowledged that giving children Covid jabs could provide them with greater protection and minimise any further disruption to schooling.

However, she refused to guarantee that any rollout would be completed by the start of the new school year in August, noting that vaccine supplies “are not limitless”.

Ms Sturgeon also pointed out that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the U.K.’s medicines regulator, has so far only approved the Pfizer vaccine for use among 12 to 15 year-olds.

Pfizer said its trials had shown 100% efficacy and a strong immune response in children between 12 and 15, and also suggested that the vaccine was safe with no unusual side effects.

Its use among children in the U.K. was approved by the MHRA last Friday, with the regulator saying it had carried out a “rigorous review” which showed the vaccine was safe and effective in adolescents.

The JCVI must now advise governments on whether this age group should be vaccinated as part of the U.K. roll-out.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “Vaccination may well be an important way of giving children greater protection, minimising any further disruption to schooling and further reducing community transmission of the virus.

“And so I can confirm that if the JCVI recommends the use of the vaccine for children aged 12 and over, we will move as quickly as possible to implement the advice.”

She later said: “In anticipation of the JCVI giving the go-ahead to vaccination of over-12s, we’ve already started that planning.”

Ms Sturgeon said children with underlying health conditions may be vaccinated first but she could not yet provide a timescale for when pupils would get their jabs. However, she emphasised that the focus remained on vaccinating the adult population.

The First Minister’s announcement came as she refused to reduce Covid restrictions in any part of Scotland, blaming a 50% rise in cases over the past week due to the Indian variant.

School leaders in England have also called on Boris Johnson to vaccinate schoolchildren against Covid before the start of the summer holidays, citing concerns over the Indian Delta Covid vaccine. 

The Telegraph report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The U.K. Medical Freedom Alliance has raised “grave concerns” about the emergency authorisation of the Pfizer vaccine for children in an urgent open letter to the MHRA.

Given that these vaccines will have virtually no benefit to the children themselves, it is profoundly unethical and indefensible to vaccinate children, especially with an experimental vaccine using novel technology, in what appears to be a misguided attempt to protect adults and achieve herd immunity. We call on the MHRA to exercise caution and immediately reverse their decision.

The letter is worth reading in full.

Lockdown Restrictions to be Eased Across Most of Scotland on Monday

Restrictions on meeting both indoors and outdoors will be partially eased across most of Scotland on Monday. Pubs will also be able to sell alcohol indoors once again. It’s bad news for those who live in Moray, however, where current restrictions are expected to remain in place. BBC News has the story.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the rest of mainland Scotland [other than Moray] would move to level two restrictions from May 17th.

Some islands will move to level one restrictions on the same date.

Under the level two restrictions, up to six people from three households will be able to meet in their homes, and can also stay overnight.

And Ms Sturgeon said it would also be possible for people to hug their loved ones again from Monday.

Alcohol can be served indoors in pubs or restaurants, which will be allowed to stay open until 10.30pm – and up to six adults from three households will be able to meet indoors in a public place.

Restrictions on meeting up outdoors will ease further, to enable up to eight adults from eight different households to gather.

Adult outdoor contact sports and indoor group exercises will be able to resume.

Cinemas, bingo halls and amusement arcades are also likely to be able to reopen, and outdoor and indoor events like concerts can restart – although capacity may initially be limited.

Yesterday, it was reported that Zero Covid deaths occurred in the last 24 hours in Scotland (as well as in England and Northern Ireland). Despite the continual fall in cases and deaths, and the success of the vaccine rollout north of the border, a further easing of restrictions is not expected to occur until June.

Worth reading in full.

International Travel Restrictions Likely to Be In Place For Some Time, Says Nicola Sturgeon

Concerns over new Covid variants continue to hamper the narrative regarding Britain’s unlock. Nicola Sturgeon has warned that restrictions on international travel should not be lifted too soon because of the “big risk” of importing Covid variants into the UK. Scotland’s First Minister also told Sophy Ridge on Sky News that the British Government’s “traffic light” system for international travel is not fit for purpose because “we don’t know where the next dangerous variant will come from“.

The Daily Record has the story.

Nicola Sturgeon has warned Scotland faces a “big risk” of importing new variants of the coronavirus if restrictions on international travel are lifted too soon.

The First Minister admitted lifting travel abroad “too quickly” last year which allowed the virus to re-seed amongst the population, which then lead to a second national lockdown.

Speaking on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday show, the SNP leader said Scots face living longer with international travel restrictions due to the risk of importing new strains of Covid. 

She added: “The big risk that we face, not just in Scotland but in the UK, is the importation of new variants of the virus.

“Variants that might be faster spreading, that might be more severe, and crucially variants that might undermine the efficacy of the vaccines.

“We have to be very careful about that which is why I think one of the restrictions we’re all going to have to live with for longer is a restriction on international travel.

“We must not allow the progress we are making domestically to be undermined by a too lax position on international travel.”

… Asked about the fast-spreading Indian variant, Sturgeon said: … “It is a variant of interest as oppose to a variant of concern.”

Worth reading in full.

Nicola Sturgeon Speeds up Scottish Lockdown Roadmap

There is “every reason for optimism” in Scotland because of its vaccine rollout, according to Nicola Sturgeon, as the next step of the country’s exit from lockdown has been brought forward. The Mail has the story.

The First Minister said from Friday stay local rules are being dropped in Scotland, and six people from six different households will be allowed to meet outdoors – with under-12s not included in the numbers.

Ms Sturgeon also confirmed that that non-essential shops will be allowed to open from April 26th – and boasted there will also be limited hospitality permitted indoors, three weeks earlier than in England.

The move, announced at a briefing in Edinburgh, could increase pressure on Boris Johnson to accelerate the pace south of the border.

However, the PM insisted earlier that although infections and deaths are tumbling people must still be “cautious” about using new-found freedoms.

The Scottish Tories pointed out that Ms Sturgeon’s previous plan was “slow” and welcomed her recognition it was “safe” to go faster. 

Ms Sturgeon said “significant progress” has been made in reducing the number of Covid cases in Scotland.

Figures are now at their lowest since September, and have fallen by 40% in the past two weeks.

“We are now extremely confident that those parts of the country currently in Level 4 will move to Level 3 on April 26th, that’s now less that two weeks away,” she said.

“That means, amongst other things, that on that day shops will fully reopen, pubs, cafes and restaurants will also be able to fully open outdoors on April 26th and will be able to open indoors on that date, but on a restricted basis.”

Despite the success of England’s vaccine rollout, and the fact that Covid cases have all but vanished in many areas across the country, the Government is showing an unwillingness to speed up the exit from lockdown.

The Mail’s report is worth reading in full.

Church Closures “Unfair to Christians”, Scottish Court Hears

A Scottish court heard today that Nicola Sturgeon acted outside of her constitutional powers by closing churches, and that her Government should not have involved itself in questioning “the legitimacy of beliefs or the manner in which they are expressed”. The Times has the story.

The pandemic has highlighted Christians’ “irreconcilable conflict” between obeying the state and God, a QC has said as she argued that Nicola Sturgeon acted outwith her constitutional powers by closing churches.

Lord Braid heard today that this tension had caused 27 church ministers to instruct Advocate Janys Scott, QC to raise a judicial review at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

The ministers believe that the Scottish Government’s decision to close churches earlier this year was unlawful and breached their right to religious freedom under human rights legislation.

They also believe that the Scottish Government has breached the obligations placed on it by the British constitution.

The ministers are seeking an order declaring the decision to be unlawful and a declarator which would allow people to attend church should the tier system be reintroduced . The order being sought would allow a person living in a “Tier 4” – the most restrictive tier – to go to church.

The message of the ministers was clear:

“The petitioners would say that faith is a matter of hope in life and in death and it’s more than mere obedience and that it is essential particularly at a time of national crisis.”

Last month, a Glaswegian priest also took legal action against the closing of churches during lockdown. He said that churches need to be open “to be able to support [parish members] best in their hour of need”. Hearings are ongoing in both cases.

Worth reading in full.

Partial Easing of Lockdown Restrictions in Scotland

From Friday, private garden parties and picnics in parks – with up to four people from two households – will be permitted in Scotland, under an “accelerated” easing of the country’s lockdown before Easter. Nicola Sturgeon also announced that churches will be able to hold services for up to 50 worshippers. The Telegraph has the story.

From Friday, up to four Scots from two households will be allowed to meet for social and recreational purposes, as well as essential exercise, meaning private garden parties and picnics in parks will be permitted.

Ms Sturgeon further relaxed the rules for children aged between 12 and 17, with four from up to four households allowed to meet outside so they can “see more of their friends than is currently the case”. There is no limit for younger children.

She also announced that up to 15 people will be permitted to meet outside for non-contact sport and group exercise and that community worship will restart from March 26th, in time for Easter.

Unlike in England, churches are shut in Scotland for worship and are only allowed to open for services being broadcast, conducting a marriage or civil partnership or a funeral.

But Ms Sturgeon said communal worship would be allowed to restart on March 26th, with the pre-lockdown limit on attendance increased from 20 to 50, subject to two-metre social distancing.

The Church of Scotland welcomed the announcement, “assuming physical distancing of 2m can be in place”.

Despite this relaxation, Scots will still be required to stay at home except for specific purposes – a rule which, from Friday, will also include limited outdoor socialising.

Worth reading in full.