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Minister feared easing Aberdeen lockdown now would spread virus throughout north-east

Police officers patrol Union Street and Belmont Street in Aberdeen.
Police officers patrol Union Street and Belmont Street in Aberdeen.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has denied claims the ongoing Aberdeen lockdown is “draconian”, as she warned easing restrictions now would risk the virus spreading throughout the north-east.

The SNP minister also insisted that no “row” had broken out with local civic chiefs in the Granite City over the decision to continue restrictions for at least another week.

During a virtual meeting of Holyrood’s Covid committee, Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins told the health secretary he was “unpersuaded” that the ongoing use of such “extraordinary” lockdown powers in Aberdeen was proportionate.

He said: “Given, as you have just said, there are very few hospitalisations and no instances at the moment of Covid patients being in intensive care in relation to the Aberdeen cluster, it is very difficult to understand what the evidence is that justifies a partial lockdown of a city of 228,000 people.”

He later added: “I think it is incredibly important that we understand just how draconian these powers and these regulations are.

“We all understand that draconian emergency powers are necessary to combat emergencies, whether they are emergencies caused by terrorism, or war or natural disasters, or indeed by very serious public health problems such as coronavirus.

“But at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, all five parties agreed that emergency powers could be tolerated only where they are shown by the evidence to be necessary.”

The Scottish Government is expected to review the Aberdeen lockdown on Sunday, ahead of a potential reopening next week of cafes and hospitality businesses without alcohol being served.

Ms Freeman told Mr Tomkins it was “flawed” to judge the seriousness of the outbreak on the number of hospitalisations.

She highlighted the long-term effects of the illness and the importance of protecting people most at risk from the virus, many of whom she said remained “hesitant and anxious” that their community is “not as safe as it should be”.

The health secretary added: “I am thoroughly of the view that if we do nothing, if we lift all of the restrictions at this point, then we will not see the transmission of the virus in Aberdeen city controlled, contained and ended in this incident.

“And we seriously risk a significant spread of that virus to other parts of the geography surrounding the city.”

On Wednesday a rift appeared to have opened between the government and the leaders of Aberdeen City Council, who believed restrictions could be lifted this weekend.

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Jeane Freeman.

Ms Freeman said the debate was “entirely legitimate”, however.

“I don’t believe, and having been in the discussion myself, I did not witness or hear a row,” she told the committee.

“What I heard was a view expressed, as I’ve now reported it, from the IMT (incident management team) and the city council, that they believed it was possible, on the basis of the data we were looking at, the same data we were looking at, to open non-alcohol hospitality from this weekend.

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“That was not a judgement that we shared, and it is a judgement, there isn’t a binary position that you can get into here with any of these outbreaks. There are a range of factors that you take into account.

“I would not characterise that as a row. I would characterise that as entirely legitimate, that you can look at the same information and reach a different judgement.”

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