MSPs have demanded “immediate action” to bring the pandemic under control in Scotland as the Scottish Parliament prepares to be recalled for the first of two virtual sittings on Tuesday.
Holyrood is currently on summer recess but members will take part in two sessions, on July 13 and August 3, to hear updates and to allow MSPS to ask questions of the Scottish Government.
Nicola Sturgeon will address the reconvened parliament on Tuesday afternoon ahead of a so-called “freedom day” elsewhere in the UK on July 19, when restrictions south of the border are set to be lifted.
She is expected to tell MSPs whether Scotland will move to level zero as originally planned and if we will move further in August, in line with the rest of the UK.
Speaking ahead of the first minister’s statement, Scottish Labour deputy leader and health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie called for immediate action on vaccines, test and protect and long Covid.
Ms Baillie said the government must “show the urgency that the situation demands”, if the planned easing of restrictions is to take place on July 19.
She said: “The SNP has lost control of the pandemic and our exit from lockdown hangs in the balance. We need immediate action that meets the scale of the crisis before us.
“That’s why Scottish Labour is calling for the time between vaccine doses to be cut to four weeks, in line with the WHO’s advice, to speed up the vaccine roll-out.
“We are also calling on the government to get a grip of our failing Test and Protect system and instead of cutting corners and lowering standards, do all that they can to support the staff in their efforts.
“We also need to see leadership on long Covid if we are to avoid another health and economic crisis after the pandemic has passed.
“Make no mistake, any delay to the easing of the restrictions will be the result of SNP inaction and failure. We are at a crucial moment in the pandemic – it’s about time we showed the urgency and ambition that we need.”
Scottish Conservatives chief whip Stephen Kerr previously asked the presiding officer, Alison Johnstone, to sit on three dates – July 12, August 2 and August 23 – to allow MSPs to scrutinise the government.
It was revealed last week that Scotland had the highest rate of Covid-19 per population in Europe, with five in 10 of the continent’s hotspots and Tayside ranked as the worst overall, according to the World Health Organisation.
Opposition parties claim the Scottish Government has “taken its eye off the ball” in handling the pandemic and as a result the virus is now “out of control” in Scotland.
The Scottish Conservatives said Nicola Sturgeon can “ill-afford” to deliver a statement that leaves people and businesses in limbo and have set out how they intend to use the session to ask a number of targeted questions.
Scottish Conservative questions
- If we move to Level 0.5, what is the new timetable for Scotland to move to Level 0 and then for the removal of the vast majority of legal restrictions?
- What is the evidence for any delay to the restrictions timetable announced only a few weeks ago and how will businesses be compensated for any delay?
- What exactly are the long-term legally enforced restrictions that the SNP Government intend to keep in place beyond August 9 and the evidence for their continuation?
- What is the SNP Government’s plan to restore contact time standards for Scotland’s failing test and protect system?
- What further measures are the SNP Government going to undertake to speed up the rollout of vaccination across Scotland and encourage uptake in younger age groups?
- What additional support is the SNP Government going to give to struggling hospitals and health boards to end the ‘code black’ status and support staff?
- What is the future of self-isolation rules in Scotland, particularly for healthcare workers and schoolchildren?
Party leader Douglas Ross insisted the Scottish Government must move forward with plans to take the whole country to level zero next week.
He argued a clear timetable for exiting restrictions must be set out and that the government “can’t stall Scotland’s progress because of their own failures to tackle rising Covid cases”.
“For the past 16 months, the public have made huge sacrifices,” Mr Ross said. “People now expect a steady return to normality and that must be delivered.
“The SNP cannot stall Scotland’s progress any longer. We have to keep moving forward and that means moving Scotland to level zero next week.”
Mr Ross insisted the public “shouldn’t be punished for the SNP’s failures to boost the vaccine rollout pace and deliver a fully-functioning Test and Protect system”.
“The SNP have lowered the bar instead of meeting the expected standard for Test and Protect,” he said. “They’ve manipulated what is classed as a successful contact tracing effort instead of doing the hard work to improve the system.
“If Tuesday’s statement does not deliver a plan of action for tackling the virus and a clear timetable for exiting restrictions, Nicola Sturgeon risks losing public buy-in.
“People are fed up with the uncertainty and the SNP’s mixed messages. As I told the first minister on Monday morning, this is a crunch moment for thousands of businesses who need certainty and support.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater said it is “absolutely appropriate” for the Parliament to be recalled while Scotland is “still in the grip of the Covid-19 virus, with a high number of cases and pressure on our health services”.
“This is not a time to throw caution to the wind and accept widespread new infections, as the UK Government has irresponsibly done in England,” she said.
“We’ve seen in the Netherlands that removing all safety measures can lead to going back into lockdown, so the Scottish Government must follow clinical advice and WHO guidance to take a safer, more gradual approach until the vaccine programme is further on.
“We have particular concern for those who remain vulnerable, even when vaccinated, and for young people who may be asked to return to normal activity without being vaccinated, and it is vital for both those groups that we all remain vigilant and keep up good practice like face coverings and self-isolation.”
Past the worst
Boris Johnson will address the UK on Monday evening to confirm what restrictions will be lifted and when but the decision on Scotland’s path out of lockdown remains with Ms Sturgeon and Holyrood.
Her health secretary, Humza Yousaf, has said Scotland is past the “worst of the peak” but warned the situation is “still fragile”.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’ Sunday Show, Mr Yousaf said: “From the data I have seen over the last week – optimistically, I think we can say we are past the worst of the peak, this particular peak.
“Now that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be another peak in the future but we’re beginning to see a stabilisation and beginning to see the cases level off. Still very high I must say, but we’re beginning to see a positive trend.”
The health secretary said the government would take a “cautious not cavalier” approach to the new rules introduced from next week.