NICOLA Sturgeon is drawing up “a revised strategic framework” to move Scotland to a “less restrictive” society in managing the impacts of the pandemic.
The First Minister has highlighted a “need to continue to adapt our thinking about how to manage the virus” and “become more resilient to it in future”.
She warned that “there are no easy answers” in dealing with the threat posing by the continuing pandemic, adding that “the ongoing challenge of Covid is inescapable”.
Speaking at a virtual session of Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said the updated framework will be published in the coming weeks.
The First Minister said her relaxation of self-isolation rules to seven days and asymptomatic people with a positive lateral flow test no longer requiring a confirmatory PCR test gave a flavour of the new set-up.
She said: “The Scottish Government is therefore currently working on and will publish over the next few weeks a revised strategic framework, which will set out more fully how that process of adaptation can be managed with a view to building that greater resilience.
“We will seek views from across Parliament as we develop this new framework in more detail.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “Let me be clear at this stage, this does not, in my view, mean giving up on trying to control Covid completely – the impact of it on individual health and on our collective wellbeing is too significant for that.
“But it does mean seeking ways of doing so that are more proportionate, sustainable and less restrictive.”
Business leaders have warned that traders “need to see restrictions lifted as soon as possible” as they called on SNP ministers to “go further and faster” in doing so when the current rules are next reviewed.
Industries have welcomed the relaxation in self-isolation rules – with the 10-day regulation being blamed for vast workforce shortages.
Matthew Fell, chief policy director of the CBI, said the decision “is a pragmatic choice that can help keep the Scottish economy moving”.
He added: “Mass lateral flow testing will continue to be a vital tool in the months ahead as we learn to live with the virus and its variants, so it’s vital that the UK Government both tackles the current supply challenges and extends its commitment to keeping testing free beyond March 2022.”
Andrew McRae, FSB’s Scotland policy chair, said that despite the update, “ministers must remember that many firms have faced a dramatic slowdown in trade over the last few weeks that’s putting them under intense pressure”.
He added: “At next week’s update, the First Minister must shed more light on the circumstances that would see current restrictions lifted.
“If the Omicron-variant has changed the rules of the game, local and independent firms deserve to know what those rules are.”
Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, has called on the First Minister to set “a clear end date for the current working from home requirements” with Scots still urged to log on from home if possible to help stop the spread of the virus.
She added: “Protecting staff morale and supporting employee’s health and wellbeing is reliant on giving them options on where they want to work.
“Offices are a vital part of our town and city centre economies and without the return of office worker footfall, businesses are continuing to suffer, leading to job losses and permanent closures.
“Businesses, in consultation with our employees, are best placed to take decisions on safe office return and hybrid working plans, and it’s important that Government enable this again as soon as practicable.”
The First Minister confirmed an allocation of £55 million of previously announced emergency business support.
Ms Sturgeon said that up to £28 million will be handed to taxi and private hire drivers, £19 million will go to hairdressers and beauticians, £5 million to sport and £3 million for tourism.
She said: “Local authorities are as we speak working to get money into bank accounts as quickly as possible.”
But Scotland’s travel industry believes it has missed out on funding, despite being impacted severely by the pandemic.
Joanne Dooey, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA), said: “Scottish travel professionals are wholly at a loss to understand why we seem to be the Cinderella sector of business support.
“The travel industry in Scotland seems, once again, to have been wholly ignored by the Scottish Government’s business support package.
“Travel agents have faced highly restricted trading – with many reporting trading at less than 10% of pre pandemic rates in our members’ survey – with minimal support.
“Travel agencies have been forced to remain open to handle refunds, rebookings and repatriations. Most have had little revenue since March 2020.We urgently need sector specific support.”