IndyRef2: Sturgeon’s Covid response discussed by expert
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The First Minister will give an update to the recalled Scottish Parliament in a virtual address on Wednesday afternoon. Deputy leader John Swinney said the Scottish government was “actively considering” cutting self-isolation periods to ease the staff shortage crisis caused by the highly-infectious Omicron variant, with “further details” to follow in Wednesday’s briefing. COVID-19 case numbers have skyrocketed in Scotland since the Christmas period, with 17,259 cases reported on Tuesday.
This came after a new record of 20,217 positive confirmed cases on Monday.
Ms Sturgeon will address Holyrood as she did last week, when she was pressed by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross on the changes to self-isolation periods made in England.
Mr Ross has reiterated this call as staff absences in the country mount, with train operator ScotRail reducing the number of services they can operate and Caledonian MacBrayne, ferry provider for Scotland and the Scottish Isles, has slashed their timetable.
Mr Ross called for the First Minister to bring Scottish self-isolation guidelines in line with those in England, whether those who test negative on days six and seven of isolation can cut their quarantine short.
He added that household contacts of positive cases should be released from isolation, provided they return a negative test result.
Mr Ross said: “Scotland has the strictest self-isolation rules anywhere in the United Kingdom.”
“We understand the need for caution, but Nicola Sturgeon’s dithering and delaying is continuing to have a major impact on frontline services and the wider economy, due to the sheer numbers having to isolate.”
Deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Jackie Baillie, also expressed support for the measure after both Wales and Northern Ireland reduced the mandatory isolation period to seven days last week.
She said: “The SNP must use this update to confirm whether they will change self-isolation requirements in line with the latest evidence, to stop staff absences piling yet more pressure on businesses and services this winter.”
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “We are obviously looking at the clinical advice that is crucial in the handling of this.
“We do not in any way, shape or form serve anybody’s interest if we ignore the clinical dimension of this issue, and the risk of transmissibility of allowing individuals to return to the workplace if they’re still carrying the virus.”
Staffing absences have hit the Scottish health services, and are of “real concern”, according to nursing union RCN Scotland.
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RCN Scotland’s Eileen Mckenna said: “Nursing teams are already short-staffed, with record levels of vacancies.
“They are mentally and physically exhausted after almost two years of relentless pressure.”
This was echoed by the head of health intelligence for NHS Grampian, Jillian Evans, who said this week would be a “crunch week” for getting to grips with the scale of the Omicron variant’s impact.
She added that data from the region showed cases were doubling every three days.
She told BBC Scotland: “It will all change this week because schools will go back and it will become very obvious in terms of case numbers and their impact.
“I think this is the crunch week for us as we begin to see the impact of those high cases and schools going back, the intergenerational effects of mixing over Christmas – all of that will start to be shown now in the data.
“It will become very real to people not just in their health but also in possible disruption to their ways of life.”
This disruption includes travel and transportation, with ScotRail Operations Director David Simpson saying that the operator wanted “to provide customers with a level of certainty, which is why we are introducing some temporary changes to our timetable”.
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