The Scottish Government can take the necessary steps to counter a potential spike in Covid-19 cases caused by the Cop26 gathering, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has said.
As many as 25,000 people are set to arrive in Glasgow for the key climate summit, billed as the “last chance” to counter the effects of climate change.
But experts, including key government advisers, have raised concerns over a potential increase in cases associated with so many people being in a relatively small area.
Speaking on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show, Humza Yousef said “of course” there will be Covid-19 cases associated with the event, but he was confident these could be contained.
“There’s not a public health expert in the world that would say there’s no risk in the middle of a global pandemic to have tens of thousands of people descending onto largely one city,” he said.
“There is absolutely a risk of Covid cases rising thereafter, but we’ll do everything we can to mitigate that.”
He added: “We are also very, very assured by the protocols we’ve got in place (at the conference) to be able to isolate those cases as best as we possibly can.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “The Health Secretary simply had no answers to the potential impact of Cop26 on our NHS.
“We need to see action to speed up the booster programme, ramp up testing and to secure surge capacity for our NHS.
“We are looking down the barrel at a winter of extreme pressure on our NHS and potentially surging levels of Covid.
“We need action from the Health Secretary to avoid this, not warm words.”
Cases in Scotland were on the rise throughout the summer as coronavirus restrictions were relaxed, but began to fall in September as the vaccination programme reached its end with young people included, but the drop has levelled off, with cases in October rarely falling below 2,000 per day.
Despite the stubborn statistics, the Health Secretary said there are no immediate plans for a return to tough restrictions.
“We’re not actively considering restrictions,” he said.
“We know the harm restrictions have had in the past and therefore doing things like ensuring as many people get vaccinated as possible, continuing to make face coverings mandatory in certain settings such as indoor public settings and public transport, ensuring that we have that universal testing offer and asking people to test themselves regularly.”
But Mr Yousaf said it would be “foolish” to speculate on possible restrictions at Christmas.
“I’m not going to tell you what’s happening in a couple of months time,” he said.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP, said: “Humza Yousaf was unable to provide any confidence that our NHS is prepared as delegates start to arrive for the Cop26 Conference.
“This event is unlike anything that Scotland has previously hosted, and under the backdrop of Covid there needs to be reassurance that every mitigation is being taken, so health services are not overwhelmed by a surge in cases.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: “The NHS is already overwhelmed, it will struggle to cope with the extra added pressure an event like Cop26 will bring.”