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Sturgeon ‘satisfied’ Scotland will meet coronavirus vaccine target ahead of slowdown

Mass vaccination centres will open next week

Nicola Sturgeon is “satisfied” Scotland has hit its target to vaccinate all over-70s and the clinically vulnerable but warned progress will slow in the coming days as some centres reduce their hours following a dip in supplies.

The first minister said everyone in the cohort should have been offered an appointment by close of business on Monday and vowed “nobody is going to be left behind” as she encouraged anyone still to be reached to contact their GP.

Monday is the final day for the Scottish Government to ensure everyone aged 70 and older or in the clinically vulnerable group is given a slot, and the SNP leader said she is “satisfied we have met that target”.

But she warned progress will “decline a bit” over the coming days and said health professionals are “unlikely to vaccinate more than 30,000 people a day this week” – a decline of more than half against some days last week.

Pfizer deliveries

Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing on Monday, Ms Sturgeon said this was because of a number of factors, including a reduction in supplies and a higher-than-expected uptake of the vaccine among the earliest groups offered the jab.

Close to 100% of older care home residents and over-80s in the community have so far been given the vaccine, along with 99% of 75 to 79-year-olds. The uptake rate for those aged 70 to 74 is already at around 85%.

Ms Sturgeon said pharmaceutical firm Pfizer has “rephased its delivery”, meaning the same number of vials will be sent out but over a different timescale. With a higher uptake than anticipated, more stocks will also be held back for second doses.

Sturgeon vaccinated
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during a visit to the NHS Louisa Jordan at the SEC, Glasgow.

The slowdown means some vaccination sites, such as the NHS Louisa Jordan in Glasgow, may move from operating seven days a week to five, or significantly reduce their opening hours at other times.

Ms Sturgeon insisted “we are not talking about closing vaccination centres” and said the programme would be ready to pick up pace again “very rapidly” as soon as further  supplies become available.

“We’re going to see these issues through this programme, that’s in the nature of it, but it shouldn’t take away from the fact we are in a much better position than we thought we would be in,” she said.

‘Crucial points’

Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, welcomed news of the vaccine target being met and urged the Scottish Government to now work towards a routemap for lockdown restrictions being eased.

He said: “Understandably specific dates set in stone are not possible because as the virus mutates it can get stronger variants, as we’ve seen over the last 10 or 11 months.

“But we need to know the triggers that will be in place for all school pupils to go back, for businesses to reopen – will we have a tiered approach or a national approach?

“These are the crucial points that businesses really need to be aware of so we can see our way out of this crisis.”

Ms Sturgeon told Friday’s briefing she is “very keen” to go ahead with plans for younger children to return to schools from February 22 but warned the date should not be seen as the time to ease other parts of lockdown.

Her cabinet will meet on Tuesday morning ahead of an expected announcement to the Scottish Parliament later in the day, which could include an “indicative timetable” for the next groups of pupils to return to school.

Ms Sturgeon said there is evidence to suggest that suppression of the virus is “going in the right direction” but the new strain is declining at a slower rate.

An announcement on pupils’ return to school is expected on Tuesday.

She added: “What is really, really important is that that’s not then seen as a trigger for people who are currently able to work from home going back to work or parents deciding to meet up with each other more.

“What was often the risk factor around schools is not transmission inside schools, it’s all of the activity that takes place around schools.”

Meanwhile, the first people to enter Scotland’s new “managed isolation” quarantine programme touched down in the country on Monday.

Edinburgh Airport said a significant number of passengers made the decision not to board a flight from Turkey after arriving at the airport and it is understood only a handful of people travelled to the capital.

The airport was critical of the Scottish Government’s handling of the new legislation, saying it was “lacking in basic detail and knowledge of our operations”.

The wider details of the new travel legislation were made public last week but the finer points only emerged at 4am on the day it came into force.

Scottish Labour described the government’s handling as “farcical”, while the Scottish Conservatives said the public had been “caught in a blame game” caused by the SNP.

Under the new rules, all passengers arriving in Scotland from outside the common travel area  have to pay up to £1,750 a head to quarantine at one one of six designated hotels, unless they are subject to an exemption.

Transport secretary Michael Matheson said on Sunday a “loophole” allowing overseas travellers to avoid hotel quarantine still exists, which could “potentially undermine the public health approach here in Scotland”.

In England the UK Government will only require hotel quarantine for visitors from a “red list” of 33 countries designated as high risk, meaning travellers arriving from elsewhere could avoid it by entering Scotland via England.

Visitors still have to self-isolate for the 10-day period but do not have to do so at one of the designated hotels due to a lack of agreement between Scottish and UK governments.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Just hours after the new rules came into force, Westminster Health Secretary Matt Hancock denied the UK Government is ignoring expert guidance and leaving the back door open to new variants of coronavirus.

He told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme he had not had “direct conversations” with counterparts in Scotland but is happy to discuss the matter with the Scottish Government.

Responding to Mr Hancock’s comments, Ms Sturgeon said she wanted the UK Government “to work with us” so that anyone “destined for Scotland” is required to quarantine near the point of arrival, rather than allowed to travel large distances.

“I heard a clip of Matt Hancock on the radio this morning saying he was willing to continue to talk to us about this – and I welcome that,” she said. “Hopefully we can get some progress in the days to come.”