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.

Social Distancing Guidelines Mean Scottish Learner Drivers Face 16-Week Wait for Theory Tests

Learner drivers in Scotland face a 16-week wait to sit a theory test due to the backlog caused by lockdowns and the continuation of strict social distancing guidelines at test centres (and across the country). English learners also face an average wait time of almost five weeks. BBC News has the story.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) said its testing capacity was limited in Scotland as centres must ensure people observe 2m physical distancing.

South of the border only 1m physical distancing is required.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she will look at the situation to see how quickly capacity can be increased.

Driving lessons resumed in Scotland on April 26th and practical driving tests restarted on May 6th, following the easing of lockdown restrictions. 

At the time the U.K.-wide backlog was said to be more than 400,000.

The pandemic [lockdown] has also had a knock-on effect on theory tests and the average wait in Scotland is now 16 weeks.

This compares with 4.6 weeks in England and Wales.

One MSPs claims young people are missing out on jobs due to the backlog…

The DVSA said it did not keep records of whether people who live in Scotland are getting around the delays by crossing the border to sit their theory test.

But it added all candidates were reminded to observe local Covid restrictions.

The theory pass certificate is valid for two years, within which time a learner must pass their driving test or, failing that, resit their theory. The DVSA says this two-year period will not be extended, despite the learner backlog caused by lockdowns, because it is important that road safety knowledge remains fresh at the time of practical tests.

Nicola Sturgeon described the issues involved with delays as “complex and rarely straightforward… In certain environments, 2m physical distancing remains an important mitigation. However, the issue is important and we will continue to look at the situation to see how quickly we can increase capacity and get the backlogs down.”

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.

Scotland Delays the Lifting of Lockdown Restrictions – Will England Follow Suit?

The lifting of lockdown restrictions has been halted in much of the central belt of Scotland, with Nicola Sturgeon pinning the blame on the spread of the Indian Delta Covid variant. Sky News has the story.

Giving a Covid update to the Scottish Parliament, [the First Minister] said there was hope the rollout of vaccinations was “opening the path to a less restrictive way” of dealing with the virus.

But, with not all adults having yet received two doses of a vaccine, [Sturgeon] told MSPs: “We are not quite there yet.”

She added: “As we make this transition – just to compound the challenge – we are also dealing with a new, faster spreading variant.

“This is, of course, a new development that has arisen since we set out our indicative route map back in March.

“All of this means that at this critical stage – to avoid being knocked off course completely – we must still err on the side of caution.”

Edinburgh and Midlothian, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, North, South and East Ayrshire, North and South Lanarkshire, Clackmannanshire and Stirling have not yet met the criteria to see restrictions ease, Ms Sturgeon said.

As a result, those areas will remain under Level Two restrictions [meaning limits will remain on social mixing and on leisure and entertainment businesses].

However, Glasgow will move down from Level Three to Level Two from Saturday.

And another 18 local authorities will see restrictions ease from Saturday to move down to Level One measures.

Worth reading in full.

Despite calls from various Government advisors for the end of England’s lockdown to be pushed back, the Prime Minister says there’s no evidence to suggest that the country’s reopening should be delayed. The Guardian has the story.

Boris Johnson stands by his comments that there is nothing in the data to suggest a deviation from England’s reopening on June 21st, Downing Street has said, as scientists said the U.K. was facing a perilous moment.

The Business Minister Paul Scully also said on Tuesday there was “cautious optimism” that the date for the final lifting of restrictions could go ahead as planned. He told Times Radio the Government did not want to have to roll back restrictions again.

“One thing that we saw last year, before Christmas, was the stop-start nature just didn’t work for businesses and cost them more. So we’ve got to get it absolutely right. People’s jobs and livelihoods depend on it.” …

Asked about the Prime Minister’s view on the latest data, a Number 10 spokesman said: “I was going to point to what the PM said on Thursday. The Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions that we haven’t seen anything in the data but we will continue to look at the data, we will continue to look at the latest scientific evidence as we move through June towards June 21st.”

A announcement on the final step of the roadmap out of lockdown is expected on June 14th.

Also worth reading in full.

Some Parts of Scotland May Be Left Behind When the Rest of the Country Unlocks Further Next Week

Lockdown restrictions will be partially eased in Scotland next week, but Health Secretary Humza Yousaf says that stricter rules are likely to remain in parts of the country where the number of positive tests is increasing. BBC News has the story.

Under the lockdown easing roadmap, areas in level two are scheduled to move down to level one on June 7th. 

But Humza Yousaf said this may not be possible for areas where Covid cases are giving “cause for concern”.

He said this could affect locations outside Glasgow, which is the only part of Scotland still in level three.

The rest of mainland Scotland is in level two, while some islands have already moved down to level one.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she is hopeful Glasgow can move down a level at the end of this week, which would allow people to meet inside homes and gardens, and alcohol to be served inside bars and restaurants. 

She is due to announce on Tuesday whether the rest of Scotland can move down to level one on June 7th, a step which would allow greater numbers of people to socialise and venues such as soft play centres to reopen.

Mr Yousaf told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme that while the impact of new variants on the NHS was still being assessed, it may be necessary to hold some areas back. 

He said: “It may not be the entire country moving to level one.

“I think people would understand where there are rising case numbers, where there is rising test positivity… it may be the case that parts of the country move to level one but actually other parts of the country we decide to keep in level two.”

Asked if he was referring to Glasgow, he replied: “Glasgow – but also, I must be quite frank, there are other parts from the data that continue to give us cause for concern.”

The Scottish Government is focusing particularly on the spread of the Indian Covid variant in parts of the country. This has also been at the centre of considerations in England on whether lockdown should come to an end on June 21st. A decision is expected here on June 14th.

Worth reading in full.

Scottish Government Covid Adviser U-Turns on Efficacy of AstraZeneca Vaccine against Variants

Professor Devi Sridhar, the Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the Scottish Government Covid Advisory Group, said two months ago (in a tweet that has since been deleted) that the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine does not work against the South African variant. She now claims that the vaccine does work against variants, and that “we have to move away from harsh restrictions and lockdowns”. “Steerpike” has the details on this U-turn in the Spectator.

Eight weeks ago… the good professor was spreading inaccurate information about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca jab against new variants after she tweeted on March 26th: “Huge risk: watching a slow-moving car crash as U.K. Government stays open to France and other European countries, which have a South African variant our main vaccine (AZ) doesn’t work against. The red list approach doesn’t work. We need blanket international quarantine to avoid future lockdowns.”

Two months later, such a blanket international quarantine has not been introduced. Case numbers continue to fall in Scotland with just 313 cases reported yesterday and zero new reported deaths of those who tested positive. The red list approach is still in place and AstraZeneca is still being administered daily to thousands across the U.K.. You might have thought an academic who had been so outspoken on this might be somewhat embarrassed by this extremely positive data.

Apparently not, given Sridhar’s recent tweets. The professor has now done a complete 180 and switched to being bullish about the resilience of Britain’s vaccines (including the much-maligned AstraZeneca). She tweeted on May 23rd: “My take on current situation: variants will continue to cause issues but our vaccines (both doses!) are effective as an additional layer of protection. We have to move away from harsh restrictions and lockdowns to data-driven, precise outbreak management using science and logistics.” Quite the turn around.

Of course, you cannot point this volte-face out to Sridhar as she has a disconcerting habit of blocking her critics online. Her tweet of March 26th has now been deleted – not surprising given how inaccurate her AstraZeneca claims proved to be. Other claims are harder for Sridhar to remove, such as her apocalyptic warning on Sky News at the end of February that “there is a huge risk of bringing back all kids at the same time and then having to shut schools again” – another prediction that failed to transpire.

Sridhar herself has shown no qualms about demanding greater accountability and transparency for others, writing online that “secrecy goes against public good esp in crisis when decisions have implications for 66 million people”. Mr S wonders whether Sridhar’s preference for expunging her inaccurate predictions is conducive to good policymaking.

Worth reading in full.

Lockdown Easing Postponed – in Scotland!

Scotland’s Supreme Leader, Nic Sturge-On, has announced that the lockdown rules in place in some areas will remain in force after Monday. The Sun has more.

The Scots First Minister revealed Glasgow and Moray will remain subject to tougher Level 3 restrictions on Monday as the rest of mainland Scotland drops to Level 2.

It means people in Glasgow will be no longer allowed to mix in each other’s homes from Monday as planned.

And those in the affected areas shouldn’t travel in or out of them either.

The slamming on the handbrake is over fresh fear the India variant is driving an [upsurge in cases] in Scotland’s second largest city.

Some 80.4 cases per 100,000 people were recorded in Glasgow in the seven days to May 11, with experts warning of a “loss of control”.

Speaking to the Scottish Parliament today, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that “pressing pause” would ensure that coronavirus measures would not have to be reimposed at a later date.

She said: “I know how disappointing this will be, but pressing pause for a few days will hopefully avoid a situation in which we have to impose even more restrictive measures over the next few weeks.”

Initially, both areas will remain at Level 3 for a week, with a further decision made at the end of next week.

It heralds the return of local restrictions for Scotland after parts of the central belt were subject to tougher measures last year.

They will have less freedoms than counterparts in other areas of Scotland, who will be able to mix indoors in groups of six from three households.

Overnight stays are also allowed under Level 2, but are banned in Level 3.

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.

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.

March Death Rate In Scotland Is Among Lowest For 50 Years

Scotland has recorded its lowest March death rate since 2014. The rate was also among the lowest in 50 years, but the country’s National Clinical Director insists it is too soon to lift lockdown. The Times has the story.

Deaths in March were among the lowest in the past 50 years due to a dramatic decline in Covid and other illnesses linked to old age.

There were 5,529 deaths between March 1st and April 4th – the lowest for this period since 2014 and among the lowest in five decades.

Last week alone there were 969 deaths from all causes – 149 below the five-year average and the lowest number of deaths of any month since the last week of September 2020.

There were 38 deaths linked to Covid last week – including 27 where the virus was the underlying cause – the lowest since October 5th. …

A total of 9,997 deaths have been linked to Covid since the pandemic hit Scotland in March 2020.

There have been 2,784 deaths directly attributed to coronavirus in 2021 but a huge drop in other illnesses that primarily affect the elderly – particularly other respiratory illnesses such as flu which are 1,123 below average.

There have been 148 fewer cancer deaths, 348 fewer deaths linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia and 183 fewer deaths linked to heart disease and stroke.

Despite this positive news on the country’s falling death rate, Scotland’s National Clinical Director said it is still too soon to unlock.

It is fantastic and testament to the work of 5.5 million people as well as the health and social care service.

Is it still worth doing what we are doing now? I would say yes – but we are opening so we are now taking into account the other harms as we have done the whole way through.

That balance is now tipping to opening the economy to allow people to have more of a social life, whereas before the balance was tipped the other way.

Soon we will no longer be able to call it lockdown anymore. Can you call it lockdown now that the barbers are open and you don’t have to stay at home quite so much? Maybe – but on April 26th I think you can probably stop calling it lockdown because non-essential retail, hospitality, schools, universities and colleges are open.

The health advisers, the chief economist, the chief social policy researcher have tried to strike a balance over the past 14 months – and you can judge whether we have got that balance right or wrong.

Worth reading in full.