Jeane Freeman says she does not know whether Scotland will follow England into Boris Johnson’s new traffic light system for foreign travel amid concerns over coronavirus variants on the continent.
The health secretary said it was too soon to know when international travel will resume more fully, with officials expressing “concern” over the proportion of the South African coronavirus variant in countries such as France and Luxembourg.
Foreign holidays are currently banned across the UK but Boris Johnson is expected to unveil a new traffic light system for international travel in an update on measures for easing Covid restrictions in England on Monday.
Under the current easing plan, the earliest date people in England could go abroad for a holiday would be May 17 but first minister Nicola Sturgeon has already said it is “unlikely” foreign travel will resume that early in Scotland.
Appearing on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Monday, health secretary Jeane Freeman was asked whether the changes could mean people in England being allowed to travel abroad while those in Scotland are told not to.
“I don’t know the answer to that yet,” she said. “What I do know is that we only need to look at the situation in France to see what can happen if you move too fast and you have, as France does, more than one variant to contend with.
“What I know for sure is that I don’t want us to move back into a third lockdown. I am absolutely certain that businesses don’t want that too.
“If that means we can ease domestically, whilst restricting ourselves in terms of international travel, then that might be the right choice to make.
“But at this point, it’s too early to have a definitive view on that. We need to see how we make progress.”
Ms Freeman also told the programme the Scottish Government is keeping a “watching brief” over the domestic use of Covid-19 vaccine passports but said there are practical and ethical questions to be addressed over their possible application.
The health secretary said clinicians “want to see how that might work out” and discussions are continuing with the UK Government and colleagues in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Asked whether the Scottish Government is already actively looking at a digital rollout for any prospective vaccine passport, such as a mobile phone app, Ms Freeman said: “Yes, we are. I don’t want it to be paper.
“Where it’s possible, I want it to be digitally done. I don’t want to put an unnecessary burden on the health service, on our GP practices for example, with everyone going to them to get the bit of paper that says ‘I’ve been vaccinated’.
“We are currently looking at what would be the digital infrastructure you’d need for any form of certification as we’ve worked through those ethical and equality, and practical, questions about how it might be used and in what circumstances.”