NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of being “too cautious” after she suggested it could be weeks before self-isolation rules are relaxed in Scotland.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has warned the current rules are “not sustainable” as he called on the First Minister to follow the UK in relaxing the current 10-day self-isolation rule to seven days to “protect our essential services and our economy from grinding to a halt because of staff absences”.
Updated rules for England means that people who receive a negative test result on day six and day seven of their isolation will no longer have to self-isolate for the full 10 days.
Certain sectors of the Scottish economy are struggling to keep operating due to vast numbers of staff having to self-isolate – with household contacts of a positive case also currently required to isolate, even if they test negative.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon admitted the self-isolation rules are “one of the most important issues the Government is grappling with”.
She added: “We will make changes, just as soon as the public health advice says that the benefits of doing so outweigh the risks of doing so.”
The First Minister said the intention was to make changes “in an overall coherent way”, including making alterations to the rules for household contacts.
She added: “We’ve got to be careful that in easing self-isolation, we don’t inadvertently allow further spread of the virus and therefore compounds rather than alleviate the problem.
“I would hope that over the next days, certainly the next couple of weeks, we will start to move to a more proportionate system in terms of self-isolation.”
Mr Ross told the First Minister that a suggestion it could take weeks to relax rules was “troubling”.
He added: “We understand the need for caution, but the current rules are not sustainable.
“These rules, at the moment, right now, are leading to a shortage of workers in our vital services, in our transport system and across the public sector.
“These rules are forcing whole families and households to self-isolate for 10 days, even if they have tested negative.
“The First Minister accepted that exemptions were necessary and introduced them…but we are hearing concerns about how long they take to get these exemptions granted and the numbers that have been approved.”
Ms Sturgeon insisted that “it is a difficult balance to strike, particularly at this moment”.
She said: “The reason why we have tightened isolation rules for household contacts is that one of the things we already know about Omicron is that it has a much higher attack rate within groups of people who are living closer together.
“The danger is that if we move away from that too quickly, all we do is spread more infection and actually the impact on the economy, which I absolutely recognise, gets greater.”
But Mr Ross stressed that the changes his party are demanding “are necessary to protect essential services and our economy” and pointed to evidence published yesterday suggesting that for the majority of people, the Omicron variant, while still extremely more transmissible, is not as likely to require hospital treatment.
He added: “This seems too cautious.
“Why do people who have tested negative for Covid have to remain in isolation for 10 days? This level of caution belonged before we had the data from this new study announced last night.
“Although we need to tackle Covid, we also need our services to function fully and our economy to keep running.”
In response, Ms Sturgeon said: “If we act rashly right now, what we risk is a really counter-productive affect that makes what we’re all living though longer rather than shorter.”