The Scottish Government needs to consider calling in the British Army to help in efforts to tackle Covid-19 hotspots in Glasgow, the Scottish Labour leader has said.
Anas Sarwar said ministers should “not be afraid” to call in the Armed Forces to help in the city.
He also demanded that mass testing be carried out in the worst affected areas, with pop-up vaccination clinics also being suggested, so that those living or working in hotspots could get jags without having to book an appointment.
He made the plea as Glasgow remains the only part of Scotland to be kept under Level 3 restrictions – meaning bars and restaurants cannot sell alcohol indoors, while people in the area are also not allowed to visit other people inside their homes.
It comes in the wake of a spike of coronavirus cases, mostly emanating from the southside of the city.
On Monday, new figures showed that the number of cases per 100,000 people in the previous week in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area was more than double the national average.
But with hospitality and other sectors struggling after more than a year of some kind of restrictions, Mr Sarwar said there needed to be a “much more urgent and direct form of action” in Glasgow.
He insisted: ““We should have mass PCR testing in hotspot areas, door-to-door if necessary. We should have pop-up vaccination centres in those hotspot areas where anyone aged 18 and above can turn up without an appointment. That should have been happening already, it needs to happen urgently.
“In other parts of the UK we have not been afraid to call in the British Armed Forces if necessary to get more capacity on the ground. We should not be afraid to do such like in Scotland as well in those hotspot areas in order to confront this challenge.”
While Mr Sarwar stressed he had been “supportive of the Government’s cautious approach since the outset of this pandemic”, he also made clear that “I think there comes a point where timidity has to be called out”.
He stated: “It is not fair to lock down an entire city, the most strict restrictions anywhere in the UK, and at the same time not take the urgent action necessary in order to get us out of this situation.
“The answer to the crisis is not shutting down an entire city, it is getting the capacity on the ground and taking the urgent action we need in order to draw down the virus by identifying where it is, getting people to isolate, by ramping up the vaccine so we can reduce the risk of hospitalisation and reduce the risk of long-term consequences of Covid and getting our city back open again.
“And if the Government doesn’t have the capacity to do it, let’s do what has happened in other parts of the UK and let’s call on the British Armed Forces to come in, help us with that capacity and help us get our country back on track and get the city open again.”
Mr Sarwar, speaking with business leaders in the city’s George Square, also demanded “more significant” financial support be made available to firms who have been affected.
Donald MacLeod MBE, the convener of the Glasgow Licensing Forum and owner of the Garage and Cathouse nightclubs, said the Scottish Government has “failed” to provide a route map out of restrictions thus far.
Mr MacLeod said there should be an indicative date laid out by the Scottish Government for the reopening of his sector, but claimed the most important issue was engagement between officials and the industry.
“Our various groups have had various meetings… but these meetings very rarely amount to anything, they’re brief consultations,” he said.
“It’s just not good enough – there’s always an excuse.”
Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would call in the Army “when and if we think that is required”.
The First Minister, speaking at a coronavirus briefing, said she was “very impressed” with the way health authorities had dealt with the rise in cases in the city.
Ms Sturgeon stated: “As I am sure the Scottish Labour leader knows, health teams have been going door-to-door in parts of Glasgow’s southside, delivering tests, encouraging testing.”
She added that PCR testing was already being used “to a considerable extent in the southside of Glasgow”.
And she said: “I am not just satisfied, I am very impressed with the public health response in Glasgow southside.
“I think the response has been excellent, we have got to support our public health teams to continue that.”