Scotland

Supreme Leader Nic Sturge-on Tells Scots They May Have to Wear Masks For Years

People in Scotland may have to wear masks in public places for years to come, Nicola Sturgeon has warned – in spite of the fact that masked-up Scotland has a higher number of cases per 100,000 than England. MailOnline has more.

The First Minister insisted that tough curbs dramatically imposed on hospitality venues and large gatherings from Boxing Day had stemmed the spread of Covid, despite official figures showing that Scotland’s virus rate is higher than England’s.

And furious business leaders said Miss Sturgeon’s “gamble” with restrictions must end after they failed to make “any meaningful difference” to infections in Scotland.

Speaking ahead of today’s announcement about extending restrictions beyond next week, Miss Sturgeon said face coverings “might be required in the longer-term to enable us to live with it [Covid] with far fewer protective measures”.

In England, Covid restrictions could start to be lifted this month after Michael Gove said Britain was moving towards a situation where it could “live with” the virus.

Downing Street is examining options to lift Plan B measures in stages if cases remain too high to remove them all in one go. Extending Covid passes, due to expire on January 26th, would require another bruising clash with Tory backbenchers, which No 10 wants to avoid.

But some ministers are pushing for the WFH guidance to be removed first, arguing that it causes the most damage to the economy.

Miss Sturgeon told STV’s Scotland Tonight: “Sometimes when you hear people talk about learning to live with Covid, what seems to be suggested is that one morning we’ll wake up and not have to worry about it any more, and not have to do anything to try to contain and control it.

“That’s not what I mean when I say ‘learning to live with it’. Instead, we will have to ask ourselves what adaptations to pre-pandemic life – face coverings, for example – might be required in the longer-term to enable us to live with it with far fewer protective measures.”

Worth reading in full.

According to the Government’s coronavirus dashboard, the number of cases per 100,000 is currently higher in those parts of the United Kingdom with severe Covid restrictions in place than it is in England, including Scotland.

Stop Press: Nicola Sturgeon has announced that some Covid restrictions in Scotland will be lifted next Monday, including the ban on more than 500 people attending football and rugby matches, and she hoped other restrictions would be lifted the following Monday, pending a review of the data, including limits on attendance at indoor live events, table service in hospitality businesses, and distancing in indoor public spaces. But anyone wanting to access those events will still require a Covid Pass – and merely being double-vaccinated won’t be sufficient if the second jab was more than four months ago. From Monday January 17th only those who’ve had a second dose within four months, had a booster or uploaded the result of a recent lateral flow test will be able to download a Covid Pass. What’s more, she’s thinking about extending those venues that require Covid certification to include pubs, bars and restaurants.

Stop Press 2: Jamie Blackett in the Telegraph says it’s time to disabuse people of the idea that Nicola Sturgeon has had a good Pandemic.

Thousands Gather at Scotland Anti-Lockdown Protest

An ‘unplanned’ anti-lockdown protest in Scotland’s largest city has taken place today that appears to be one of the country’s largest demonstrations since the pandemic began. MailOnline has more.

Thousands of protesters gathered at Glasgow Green at 1pm on Saturday as public anger boiled over at First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s latest Covid curbs.

The activists began the unplanned procession by marching through Argyle Street, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, during what the campaign group called a “Freedom Rally”.

Some of them were pictured carrying placards saying “Do you trust your government with your life?” and “vaccine passports means your body will be owned by the state forever”. 

The protest is believed to have been organised by Scotland Against Lockdown, a group that runs campaigns against mandatory facemasks.

The campaigners are also opposed to the Scottish and U.K. Governments’ Coronavirus Act 2020, social distancing and mandatory vaccines, according to its social media pages. 

Official data showed Covid cases in Wales and Scotland are increasing faster than in England despite the nations’ harsher restrictions.

Confirmed infections are rising more than twice as quickly in Scotland as they are in England, jumping from 6,976 to 14,006 in the former nation in the week up to January 2nd – an increase of more than 100%.

For comparison, cases increased 44% in England to 129,014 during the same period. They increased by more than 52% in Wales to 9,718. 

Worth reading in full.

Scottish Fertility Clinic Bans Unvaccinated Women From Using Services as Italy Announces Mandatory Vaccination for Over-50s

A top Scottish fertility clinic has withdrawn its services for unvaccinated women, leaving many people upset and leading to calls for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to address the fact that it may not be limited to just one clinic. EuroWeekly News has more.

Glasgow Royal Fertility Clinic said that “it has been nationally agreed that fertility treatment for unvaccinated women will be deferred with immediate effect.”

Citing Dr Gregor Smith, Chief Medical Officer for the Scottish Government, the update published just before Christmas said that “pregnant women should now be considered as a clinical risk group and part of priority group six within the vaccination programme”.

According to data published in the Scottish Intensive Care Society Report on October 13th, of 89 Covid positive pregnant women who were admitted to critical care between December 2020 and the end of September 2021; 88 were unvaccinated, one was partially vaccinated, and none were fully vaccinated.

The clinic said that said data, from unknown dates, also showed that “98% of pregnant women in ICU with COVID-19 were unvaccinated” and that “all the women who have died during pregnancy or up to six weeks after birth, 88% of them were unvaccinated.”

This has led the clinic, which is located in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, to withdraw its services to unvaccinated women and the “clinic will review this decision during February 2022 or earlier if appropriate.”

“Older women who have their treatment deferred will have the deferral time added back on to their fertility journey to ensure that they do not lose out on eligibility for treatment due to their age,” the clinic said.

Note that the ICU data above doesn’t take into account the proportion of pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant who were vaccinated at the time.

What happened to liberal societies not coercing experimental medical treatment?

The news comes as Italy announces that Covid vaccination will become mandatory for all over-50s from next month in an effort to tackle surging infections. The Telegraph has more.

Why Have the Scots Been So Compliant?

We’re publishing a guest post today by two Scottish academics, Professor Roger Watson and Dr. Niall McCrae, about why the Scots have proved so willing to comply with the SNP’s draconian Covid restrictions. Their unprotesting acceptance of the cancellation of Hogmanay is particularly mystifying given that the latest data suggests only one Omicron patient has been admitted to intensive care in Scotland.

Hogmanay has always been a special night in the Scottish calendar. But looking forward to ‘the bells’ at a Glasgow bar, dozens of revellers were taken aback by the sudden arrival of a troop of police officers. The Avant Garde bar was known to be relaxed on Covid restrictions, and the police had apparently been tipped off that a couple had taken to the dance floor. Six vans arrived, and the ensuing scenes (later reported by the mainstream media but only after going viral on Twitter) showed that in Sturgeon’s Scotland the priority is not protecting public health but ensuring full compliance with the draconian rules. As in the film Footloose, set in a religiously rigid American town, dancing is considered a danger to public order.

How did Scotland become such an oppressive society? This, we believe, is rooted in two potent forces: first, the engrained sense of subjugation (actual or perceived) by the English; and secondly by a predilection to Calvinist discipline.

A Hogmanay Tale From Central Edinburgh

We’ve been sent a semi-autobiographical, satirical short story by one of our Scottish readers who, for understandable reasons, wishes to remain anonymous. We hope you enjoy it.

It was the night before Hogmanay 2021 and all through the silent Edinburgh streets bored tourists walked past closed pubs, shuttered nightclubs and barely-filled restaurants. Lured by promoters’ tales of “legendary” Scottish hospitality in the alcohol-fuelled, self-styled capital of the New Year party world, they had risked quarantine at an airport hotel with a daily diet of Tunnocks tea cakes in the hope that the spontaneous Princes St kiss with a hairy highland stranger as the bells struck midnight might not turn out to be a snog with another South East Asian tourist under a wee Jimmy wig. Too late, these disappointed visitors, who in a parallel world might have contributed to the needy coffers of the Caledonian economy in fair exchange for “a guid time”, had come to realise that the entire country was under the iron, liberty crushing, control of one woman, Scotland’s very own Old Nic.

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge, favoured residential suburb of precious professionals seeking proximity to the cathedral of lockdown virtue-signalling, Waitrose, the McAllister family returned home from the last of the annual Christmas visits to Ma McAllister’s relatives which Pa McAllister and daughter, Dotty, had for once been unable to avoid as their conveniently essential prior engagements had been cancelled by Old Nic. “Please tell me I don’t need to see any more of these people for another year,” came the cry as they stumbled through their own front door adorned with its tasteful, homemade holly wreath. “That’s definitely it,” Ma assured them, yet at the back of her mind was the niggling doubt that someone had been missed, somebody, or indeed several somebodies, who had come to play such a central part in their lives that it would be shocking if, as the year drew to a close, Ma did not let them know how much, for good or ill, they meant to the McAllisters.

It was then that Ma noticed Pa slipping off up the stairs into the bedroom with that dreamy smile on his face, softly closing the door behind him. Of course, how could she have forgotten…

It had all started about 21 months ago. Alarmist news flashes were warning of an apocalyptic illness sweeping the globe, as journalists salivated that the rerun of the Spanish flu story they had been preparing for (some might say longing for) every time an exotic bird sneezed, could finally keep them all gainfully employed. In Pa’s study it was business as usual. “How do I save a document again?” he was asking for the 156th time. “Click on File, then on Save,” replied Ma without drawing breath as she continued the daily rebalancing of the McAllister’s global equity portfolio whilst making two rounds of french toast. There was silence from Pa. Then: “It says on my phone that Boris is closing the country for three weeks, no one is to move, shops and schools will shut, but you’re allowed out for an hour to exercise or get essential food.” “Don’t be ridiculous,” said Ma, as she recalibrated the chain saw whilst mentally debating the risks and benefits of a small cryptocurrency position. “Only a mad man would do that, and anyway, we don’t live in North Korea.” But for once, Ma was wrong.

Scottish Government Admits That Hundreds of ‘Covid Patients’ Have Been Hospitalised for Other Reasons

Since the arrival of the Omicron variant, the Scottish Government has refused to release any data about how many Covid patients have been admitted to hospital because of the virus, as opposed to those who have been hospitalised primarily due to other ailments, with SNP Health Secretary Humza Yousaf unable to provide any accurate information. Nevertheless, Yousaf still implied that the confirmed total number of Covid hospitalisations includes those who have tested positive for the virus but were admitted to hospital due to another ailment and are being treated for that, not Covid. The revelation has led Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, Chairman of the Scottish Covid Recovery Group, to accuse the SNP of bringing in draconian restrictions which aren’t justified by the facts. The Telegraph has more.

Humza Yousaf was unable to say on Thursday how many patients on wards included in official figures were in hospital primarily because they were suffering from Covid, and how many were admitted for other conditions and only tested positive only after routine testing.

He claimed advice from Gregor Smith, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, was that the “majority” of people recorded as Covid patients were in hospital “due to Covid”, raising the prospect that hundreds of the 810 people classed as virus patients on Thursday were actually admitted for unrelated ailments.

Murdo Fraser, the Covid recovery spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said he was “not convinced” that new curbs, such as the forced closure of nightclubs, the banning of mass events and restrictions on hospitality businesses, were based on sound data.

Data from hospitals in England suggests that around a third of hospital patients officially counted as Covid cases are so-called “incidental” admissions, meaning they may have been admitted for conditions such as broken bones and then tested positive. In London, data suggests the figure is around 50%.

Studies have also shown that the omicron variant, which now makes up around 80% of cases in Scotland, results in far less serious illness than previous strains.

However, the SNP Government has so far refused to release figures showing the proportion of people classed as Covid hospital patients who were admitted primarily because of the virus, since the Omicron variant emerged.

“South of the border the data would seem to suggest that it’s only a minority who are in hospital because of Covid,” Fraser said.

“What’s really concerning is the [Scottish] Government either don’t have the data, which is really worrying as they’re taking decisions without this information, or are not prepared to share it with the public or with parliament.

“The data would be able to inform the public as to whether the choices currently being made by the Scottish Government, which are restricting people’s liberty and having a major impact on businesses, are justifiable.”

He added: “We need to ensure that the decisions that are being made, which are affecting people’s liberty and having a major impact on business, are being underpinned by evidence, and I’m not convinced that’s the case.”

Worth reading in full.

SNP Tells Scots Not to Dodge Covid Restrictions by Celebrating New Year’s Eve in England

John Swinney, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, has called on Scots not to cross the border into England to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Doing so goes against the “spirit” of the Scottish Government’s Covid restrictions, he says. (No, really?!?) BBC News has more.

Scots have been urged not to travel to England for New Year celebrations to get around the more stringent Covid restrictions north of the border.

There is no travel ban currently in place to stop people going to England, where nightclubs are still open.

But Deputy First Minister John Swinney said doing so would go against the “spirit” of Scottish Covid measures.

He said travelling would be “the wrong course of action” due to the “serious situation” with the Omicron variant.

Case numbers in Scotland hit “alarming” record highs over Christmas and Boxing Day, with the faster-spreading strain now accounting for the majority of all infections.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is to update MSPs in a virtual sitting of the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, said she expected the figures to rise even more in the days ahead.

Scots have been encouraged to stay at home as much as possible, and to limit any social gatherings to no more than three households.

Large events such as Edinburgh’s traditional Hogmanay street party have been cancelled, with extra curbs in hospitality settings and nightclubs shut down entirely.

Clubs remain open south of the border, where no new restrictions are being imposed, but Swinney told BBC Breakfast that he would “discourage” anyone from travelling to England to see in the new year.

He said: “People are free to make their own judgments. But what we have got recognise is that Omicron is a serious threat to absolutely everybody within our society and we have all got to take measures to protect ourselves by limiting our social contacts and connections and by complying with the restrictions we have in place.

“I think it is the wrong course of action for people to take because we have a serious situation we have got to manage and we encourage everybody to play their part in addressing that.”

People in England have been urged to be “cautious” while socialising, by taking lateral flow tests and sticking to well-ventilated areas.

Ms Sturgeon is to update MSPs on the latest data and plans when Holyrood is recalled from recess for a virtual sitting at 14:00.

Worth reading in full.

Scotland Suffers 48% Decline in Boxing Day Footfall Compared With Pre-Pandemic Levels

In England, Boxing Day shopping footfall fell by 40% from 2019, whereas Scotland experienced a steeper decline at 48%. BBC News has more.

Shopping footfall in Scotland was 48% below Boxing Day 2019, before the pandemic.

That was a steeper fall than any region of England, where footfall was down 40%.

However, it was more than a three-fold increase on Boxing Day last year in Scotland, with lockdown restrictions being reintroduced.

Across the U.K., suburban and smaller towns did better for shopping activity, while shopping malls did least well.

Apart from the risk of Covid infection, other reasons for the low figures include some shops choosing to close to give staff a further day off, and lower numbers for a Sunday.

On Monday morning, shopper footfall on Scottish high streets and at retail centres was down by 38% on the levels seen two days after Christmas in 2019.

That is a slightly larger drop than the data, from Springboard retail consultancy, for the whole U.K. shows.

Early indications are that people have returned in larger numbers to retail parks to restock groceries following Christmas, while high streets and shopping malls have taken a bigger hit from consumer caution about Covid infection.

Worth reading in full.

Scotland to Close Nightclubs For At Least Three Weeks

Starting from December 27th, the Scottish Government will force all nightclubs to close for at least three weeks in an attempt to curb the spread of the Omicron variant. John Swinney, the SNP Deputy First Minister has promised to give affected businesses financial support, and has recommended that these venues temporarily convert themselves into bars so they can adhere to social distancing rules to remain open. BBC News has more.

Swinney said nightclubs would have the option to stay open by effectively becoming a bar, but physical distancing and table service would need to be in place.

He said: “We consider that closure in regulations, combined with financial support, may reduce losses and help these businesses weather what we hope will be a short period until they are able to operate normally again.”

People in Scotland have not been told to cancel their Christmas plans, but have been urged to stay at home as much as possible throughout the rest of the festive period and to limit any gatherings to three households.

Swinney told MSPs that there had been a “rapid acceleration of cases driven by the Omicron variant” in recent weeks, with concerns that the faster-spreading strain could overwhelm health services despite early evidence that fewer people are needing hospital treatment than with other variants.

The Deputy First Minister said “we have to reduce dramatically the level of social interaction if we want to interrupt the circulation of Omicron”.

Nightclubs were only allowed to reopen in August, having been shut for longer than almost every other sector during the pandemic, and had been subject to vaccine certification rules since October.

The Scottish Conservatives said closing them again was “a further setback to a sector already on its knees”.

MSP Murdo Fraser said: “I understand that this is a fast-moving situation, but when announcing this enforced shutdown, John Swinney should have spelt out the exact details of the support package that will be given to nightclub businesses.

“The SNP Government has been given an extra £440 million in assistance from the U.K. Government. They need to get that money out the door and into the hands of beleaguered Scottish businesses immediately.”

National Clinical Director Jason Leitch said the decision to close nightclubs took account of typically younger crowds who may not be vaccinated.

Speaking to the BBC’s Lunchtime Live programme, he said: “The thing that really scares us about this [variant] is its attack rate. That’s why you can hear our tone and our fear rising a little.

“It’s one of the reasons nightclubs have unfortunately had to be closed down. That population tends to be slightly less protected not because they’re not actually coming forward in big numbers but because it’s taken us a bit longer to get to that age group. It’s an environment in which the virus enjoys.”

Worth reading in full.

The Scottish Government Will Inevitably Introduce More Covid Restrictions, Says Humza Yousaf

Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Health Secretary, has declared that the Scottish Government will soon introduce more Covid restrictions to combat the spread of the Omicron variant, with the new measures expected to be announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tomorrow. Yousaf also stressed that securing financial aid from Westminster is crucial to Scotland’s Covid response. BBC News has more.

New Covid restrictions in Scotland are “inevitable”, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has warned.

He said the “sheer weight” of cases of the new Omicron variant could overwhelm the NHS and precautions would have to be taken.

It came as one teaching union called for the early closure of schools to protect pupils and staff.

Yousaf said the government would do everything it could to keep schools open.

Meanwhile last week’s advice to cancel Christmas parties is already having an effect, with hospitality businesses reporting a 25-30% drop in trade.

Details of the new restrictions would be given by the first minister in Holyrood on Tuesday, Yousaf added.

Yousaf told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland: “I think it’s inevitable we will announce additional protective measures.

“I would be reluctant to get into detail on that because we’re working through that detail and the first minister rightly will update parliament tomorrow.”

He added that securing financial support from the U.K. Government would be very important.

It came after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed an ambition to offer boosters to all adults by the end of the year “if possible”.

People aged 30-39 years-old are now able to book a booster jab online, and appointments will be open to 18-29 year-olds later in the week.

Early analysis of U.K. Omicron and Delta cases shows two doses of Covid vaccine are not enough to stop people catching the new variant.

But a booster prevents about 75% of people getting any Covid symptoms.

On Monday the U.K. recorded its first death of a patient with Omicron variant

Scientists say Omicron’s higher rate of transmissibility meant cases were doubling every two or three days.

Professor Andrew Watterson, a public health expert from Stirling University, cautioned against an “over-reliance” on vaccines and stressed the booster campaign was “only one important strand”.

Worth reading in full.