Nicola Sturgeon has today updated Holyrood on the latest coronavirus situation in Scotland, and announced a major update of the country’s strategic framework for the road out of the pandemic.
Her announcement came following Boris Johnson’s announcement yesterday that England would scrap the legal requirement for self isolation and planned to scale back free testing.
Here are seven things we learned from the First Minister’s Covid update this afternoon.
READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon update LIVE as Covid ‘roadmap’ published
First Minister @NicolaSturgeon has announced a new plan for living safely with #coronavirus.
Find out what it means for you⬇️https://t.co/smf1Ss7Qd0 pic.twitter.com/HqEfuchC7C
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) February 22, 2022
What did Nicola Sturgeon say in her Covid update today?
Free PCR testing to continue in Scotland
Ms Sturgeon announced that her government was “determined to retain” free Covid testing in Scotland and expressed frustration that the Prime Minister’s approach was to scale back testing in England.
She criticised Boris Johnson’s approach and said that he Scottish Government was looking for clarity on funding for the testing programme for devolved countries.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Current funding arrangements mean that though taxpayers in all four UK nations contribute to the costs, it is decisions taken for England that determine the resources available to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for testing and other Covid measures.
“As of now, we have no clarity on how much of the Covid testing infrastructure the UK government intends to retain; no clarity on how much investment will support it in future; and no clarity on whether the Treasury will provide additional resources to pay for it or demand instead that funding is taken from elsewhere in the health budget.
“I hope we get this clarity soon so that we can out in more detail our longer-term approach to testing.
“I want to give an assurance that the Scottish Government is determined to retain a robust testing system capable of providing Scotland with strong resilience against future Covid threats, and firmly aligned with public health advice and the principles underpinning our National Health Service.”
Vaccine passport scheme in Scotland to end
In recent days, Ms Sturgeon has been under pressure from hospitality bosses to scrap the vaccine passport scheme for licensed premises.
Hospitality leaders have also demanded an end to the legal requirement for both customers and staff to wear face masks in licensed premises such as late-night bars and clubs.
In her update today, the First Minister confirmed that the vaccine passport scheme will end on February 28.
Legal face covering restrictions to end in Scotland
The legal requirement to wear face coverings in shops and on public transport is also set to end on March 21, assuming that there are ‘no significant adverse developments’ in the virus.
Ms Sturgeon said that although the legal requirement would end, the wearing of face coverings would still be strongly recommended in government guidance.
Ms Sturgeon said: “As of March 21, assuming no significant adverse developments in the course of the virus, we expect that the legal requirement to wear face coverings in certain indoor settings and on public transport will be converted to guidance.
“However, we will continue to strongly recommend the wearing of face coverings in shops and other indoor public places, and on public transport.”
She added: “Even though certain measures, for example face coverings, may not be legal requirements in future, we will still recommend voluntary compliance as part of the range of behaviours that will help keep us safe as we manage Covid in a more sustainable and less restrictive way.”
Scots should still self-isolate
Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that people who test positive for Covid-19 in Scotland should still self isolate.
The legal requirement for infected people to self-isolate in England will be lifted from Thursday, Boris Johnson announced on Monday.
Although there has never been a legal requirement in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said the guidance to isolate would remain.
In her update to the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon said: “This new approach will see us resort much less, hopefully not at all, to legally imposed protective measures.
“Instead, we will rely predominantly on vaccines, treatments and sensible public health behaviours and adaptations.
“However much as we might wish it was not the case, Covid is still a public health risk here and globally and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future so we must also remain vigilant and prepared.”
Vaccines to be extended to vulnerable children
Vaccination appointments for vulnerable children aged 5 to 11 will begin in mid-March, following guidance from the JCVI, Ms Sturgeon confirmed.
Children who are aged 5 to 11 with an underlying health condition or who live with those who have underlying conditions should come forward for their vaccine.
Eligible children are being invited for their vaccination by NHS Scotland via letter or phone call.
These appointments will be concentrated for evenings and weekends so that parents and guardians can attend.
The First Minister also updated MSPs on the latest Covid figures.
6,427 more people have tested positive for Coronavirus today, Nicola Sturgeon said.
There were 1,060 people in hospital yesterday which is 9 more than the day before and 12 people were in intensive care yesterday with recently confirmed COVID-19.
18 more people who tested positive have sadly died which brings the total to 10,614 in total.
Looking towards vaccination, 4,433,160 people have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, 4,152,325 have received their second dose, and 3,404,119 have received a third dose or booster.
New Covid strategic framework published
This week’s announcement coincides with the publication of the Scottish Government’s Covid strategic framework.
Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government’s strategy was now to “manage Covid effectively, primarily through adaptations and health measures that strengthen our resilience and recovery”.
In her statement to MSPs, the First Minister said: “Widespread vaccination coverage and better treatments have reduced the direct harms of the virus.
“As a result, using restrictions to suppress infection is no longer as necessary as it once was.
“And, given the wider harms caused by protective measures, it is no longer as justifiable either.
“The strategic framework therefore makes clear that in future we will rely less on legally imposed measures to control the virus – and more on vaccines, treatments, and sensible adaptations and good public health behaviours.”
The framework sets out three broad levels on how the Government may respond to potential variants that could see restrictions reimposed, Nicola Sturgeon had said.
Setting out the contingency strategy for low, medium and high risks, the First Minister told MSPs: “If a new variant emerged that was more transmissible and more severe, perhaps with the ability to evade vaccine or natural immunity, this would likely be classified as high risk.
“In those circumstances, we might advise people to limit social contacts for a period; and to work from home where possible and we may introduce some temporary protections for high-risk settings.
“If a new variant was either more transmissible or more severe, but not both, as is the case with Omicron, the initial threat assessment would likely be medium.
“In these circumstances, there may be a legal requirement to wear face coverings in some settings and we might issue guidance for businesses and service providers on reasonable measures to reduce the spread of Covid on their premises.
“Lastly, in the absence of a new variant, or if a new variant was neither more transmissible nor more severe, and if vaccines continue to be effective, the threat classification would likely remain low. Obviously, this is the level we hope to reach and stay at on a sustainable basis.
“In these circumstances, there would be no legally imposed protective measures. Instead, we would continue to advise individuals and organisations to adopt sensible public health behaviours.”