Nicola Sturgeon admitted she would have liked Covid-19 quarantine checks on people returning to Scotland to have started earlier, as the delay was attacked by the aviation industry.
Ms Sturgeon said checks were to begin shortly following the weekend revelation that none had been carried out despite the quarantine requirement being in force for four weeks.
At her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon also said she hoped regulations determining which countries are to be exempted from quarantine requirements would be in place by the end of the week.
The Scottish Government is still deciding which countries to form “air bridges” that will allow holiday-makers returning to Scotland to be excused going into quarantine for 14 days.
The UK Government announced 59 air bridge countries last week, but Ms Sturgeon’s administration refused to endorse the list without carrying out its own research.
The delay has angered airport chiefs including Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports, which owns and manages Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports.
Thousands of jobs within our aviation and tourism sectors have been lost and the fact the policy has not even been enforced means our recovery plans have been stifled unnecessarily.”
Derek Provan of Aberdeen International Airport
Mr Provan claimed the delay risked jobs and went on to say the fact that quarantine checks had not yet been carried out had “stifled” AGS’s recovery plans.
Mr Provan said: “We said at the outset that a blanket quarantine policy would be ineffective, unworkable and hugely damaging to our sector and the wider economy. Since it was put in place, thousands of jobs within our aviation and tourism sectors have been lost and the fact the policy has not even been enforced means our recovery plans have been stifled unnecessarily.
“We need clarity as soon as possible on when we can move to the targeted, risk-based approach of air bridges which will allow us to safely re-establish routes and prevent further jobs being put at risk. I appreciate government has difficult decisions to make during this crisis but we cannot afford any further delay.”
Ms Sturgeon was questioned about the lack of quarantine checks, which should be done on a sample basis to determine whether people returning from overseas are keeping to the rules and isolating themselves for 14 days.
At her briefing, Ms Sturgeon said the checks would “start tomorrow”.
She added: “In an ideal world, of course I would like everything that we are doing to tackle this crisis to start earlier than, often, for practical reasons, is possible.”
The first minister said the decision had been taken to manage the system within Scottish public health arrangements.
Work on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to allow data to flow from the Home Office to Public Health Scotland (PHS) is under way.
There had been some issues with the quality of the data and the final version of the MOU had been received by PHS at the end of last week.
Ms Sturgeon added that there was “nothing to suggest there is not high compliance with this system”.
She added: “Border Force has reported high compliance with the arrangements and passengers coming into Scotland are made fully aware of the quarantine arrangements. But what we are now able to do now those data issues have been resolved is make those checks and start them tomorrow.”
On the issue of air bridges, Ms Sturgeon confirmed it was “highly likely” the UK Government’s list of low-risk countries would be adopted by Scotland.
Scottish Government officials were looking “more closely” at those countries designated as medium to moderate risk, saying there was “increasing volatility, internationally” surrounding the virus.
“I would hope to confirm my final view of that soon, within the next couple of days, so we are on track then to make any regulation changes by the end of the week,” Ms Sturgeon said.
This isn’t an issue of people getting the privilege of a luxurious holiday – it’s about giving people who’ve endured months of lockdown a desperately needed rest and change of scenery.”
Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw
But Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw accused the first minister of “dragging her feet”.
“That’s not good enough for hardworking Scots who deserve a break,” Mr Carlaw said.
“This isn’t an issue of people getting the privilege of a luxurious holiday – it’s about giving people who’ve endured months of lockdown a desperately needed rest and change of scenery.
“That’s what’s happening elsewhere in the UK, but for some reason the first minister wants it to be different for Scotland.”
Mr Carlaw accused Ms Sturgeon of looking for others to blame on the quarantine checks delay.
“In the last few weeks, an unknown number of people have arrived in this country and the SNP government has no idea who they are, where they are, or if they’ve abided by these vital rules,” Mr Carlaw said.
“It seems the first minister wants to take responsibility when things are going right, but at the first hint of a problem she looks for someone else to blame.
“The SNP’s deceit on this matter has been exposed, and now ministers should be working to resolve this rather than looking for scapegoats.”