Jan 4, 2021

Nicola Sturgeon Orders Scotland Lockdown: Speech Transcript

Nicola Sturgeon orders people in Scotland to stay at home
RevBlogTranscriptsPolitical TranscriptsNicola Sturgeon Orders Scotland Lockdown: Speech Transcript

On January 4, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon ordered a lockdown in Scotland for the rest of January. There will be a legal requirement to stay home. Read the full transcript here.

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Ken Macintosh: (01:30)
Good afternoon, colleagues. Now although Parliament has been recalled to discuss some very serious, perhaps worrying, matters, can I begin by wishing you all a very Happy New Year. We’re going to hear a statement from the First Minister shortly. Following her statement, we’ll take questions. I would encourage all members who wish to ask a question of the First Minister to press their request to speak buttons, including those online, and can I invite the First Minister to make her statement.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:55)
Starting off, before I begin today, I would like to mark with great sadness the passing of one of the former members of our Parliament, Kay Ullrich. Kay was one of the original class of 1999 and she was hugely respected across the chamber of this Parliament. She was, of course, an SNP member of 55 years standing and a lifelong and extremely passionate campaigner in the cause of Scottish independence. But for many of us, she was, first and foremost, the dearest of friends. Somebody we loved. For me, she was one of the biggest influences in my life. Literally, the first person I met and campaigned for when I joined the SNP as a 16-year-old. We will all miss her hugely. And in paying tribute to her today, I want to send my love and condolences to her husband, Grady, and to her children, John and Shelley. And to her beloved grandchildren, you really were the light of her life. Your granny was a very special person and she was extremely proud of all of you.

Nicola Sturgeon: (03:10)
Presiding Officer, let me turn now to my statement and, firstly, can I thank you for this recall of Parliament today and join you in wishing everyone all the very best for a new year that we hope, despite its very difficult start, will bring better times. The Cabinet met this morning to assess the up-to-date COVID situation, which I must say at the outset is extremely serious and to discuss what further action is necessary to minimize further spread of the virus. I will set out the decisions we reached shortly. However, I can confirm now, in summary, that we have decided to introduce from midnight tonight, for the duration of January, a legal requirement to stay at home except for essential purposes. This is similar to the lockdown of March last year.

Nicola Sturgeon: (04:03)
However, before I set out these decisions in more detail, I want to take the opportunity to explain in some detail why they are so necessary. In the past few weeks, there have been two significant game changers in our fight against this virus. One, the approval of vaccines is hugely positive and it does offer us the way out of this pandemic. But the other, the new, faster-spreading variant of the virus is a massive blow, and possibly the most simple way of explaining the challenge we face right now is to compare it to a race. In one lane, we have vaccines and our job is to make sure they can run as fast as possible. And that’s why the government will be doing everything we can to vaccinate people as quickly as possible. And I will say more about that later.

Nicola Sturgeon: (04:53)
But in the other lane is the virus, which as a result of this new variant has just learned to run much faster and has most definitely picked up pace in the past couple of weeks. To ensure that the vaccine wins this race, it is essential to speed up vaccination as far as possible, but to give it the time it needs to get ahead, we must also slow the virus down. And because it is now spreading faster, that means even tougher restrictions are necessary.

Nicola Sturgeon: (05:22)
The evidence, Presiding Officer, is now compelling that the new variant is up to 70% more transmissible than previously circulating strains, and that it may add as much as 0.7 to the R number. And according to recent analysis of PCR test samples, it appears that the new variant already accounts for almost half of all new cases in Scotland. That increased and faster spread is undoubtedly driving the very serious situation we now face. Today’s case numbers, 1,905 new cases with 15% of tests being positive, illustrate the severity and the urgency of the situation. No new deaths were reported today, but that is because yesterday was a Sunday and registration offices were largely closed. But since I updated Parliament before Christmas, 289 deaths have been recorded in our daily figures. That, again, reminds us of the continuing grief that this pandemic is causing.

Nicola Sturgeon: (06:25)
But let me stress, this is not just about one single day’s numbers. We are now seeing a steeply rising trend of infections. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year. In the week from the 23rd to the 30th of December, the 70 incidents of cases per hundred thousand of the population increased by 65%, from 136 per hundred thousand to 225 per hundred thousand. Test positivity has risen sharply, too. The next update on the numbers of COVID patients in hospital and intensive care will be published tomorrow. I would expect these to show that nationally, the total number of COVID patients in hospital is now close to the April peak. And in some boards, the pressure is already very real. For example, in terms of hospital beds, NHS Ayrshire and Arran is currently at 96% of its COVID capacity and three other health boards, Borders, Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and Lanarkshire are above 60% of their capacity.

Nicola Sturgeon: (07:36)
The number of people in intensive care is still significantly lower than the April peak, which of course partly reflects the fact that treatment of COVID has improved significantly since last spring. But even so, the total number of patients in intensive care in Scotland is already above normal winter levels. Indeed, all mainland health boards have now exceeded their normal intensive care unit capacity. And it is important to be clear, and this is a key point, that people who are in hospital and intensive care now are likely to have been infected 10 days to two weeks ago. That means that these numbers reflect what the level of new cases was around two weeks ago. And given that the number of cases has increased significantly since then, that means we can expect to see significantly increased pressure on the NHS over the course of this month. Now, contingency plans remain in place to double and then treble ICU capacity if necessary.

Nicola Sturgeon: (08:32)
And the NHS Louisa Jordan continues to be available to help meet demand. As indeed it has been doing in recent months. 12,000 patients have attended there for scans and outpatient appointments, nearly 5,000 NHS staff and students have been trained there, and it is currently being used for COVID vaccinations. In short, NHS services are coping at present, although the pressure on frontline staff is considerable. But already in some areas, the position is fragile and it is getting more challenging. If the rate of increase in case numbers that we have seen in the past two weeks was to continue unchecked, there would be a real risk of our NHS being overwhelmed, even with contingency plans in place. In fact, our modeling suggests that without further intervention we could breach inpatient COVID capacity within three or four weeks. And of course, a sharply increasing number of cases in human terms means many more people becoming ill and dying.

Nicola Sturgeon: (09:29)
All of that explains why we have to act quickly and decisively. The situation in some other parts of the UK where case numbers are already much higher than here and where the contribution of the new variant is already greater shows what may lie ahead if we don’t. As things stand, we estimate that we are possibly about four weeks behind the position in London and the Southeast of England. The rapid acceleration in London began when it was at about 160 new cases a week per hundred thousand people. That’s the level Scotland was at a week ago. London is now seeing 900 new cases a week per hundred thousand. Their test positivity is around 27% and pressure on NHS services is acute. We have an opportunity in Scotland to avert the situation here deteriorating to that extent, but we must act quickly. The advice of our clinical advisors is clear that the increased transmissibility of the new variant means that the current level four measures may not be sufficient to bring the R number back below one.

Nicola Sturgeon: (10:34)
It is essential, therefore, that we further limit interaction between different households to stem the spread and bring the situation back under control while we vaccinate more people. In short, we must return for a period to a situation much closer to the lockdown of last March. Let me therefore set out in more detail the decisions that the Cabinet reached this morning. It is important to stress that these are not decisions that we took lightly. I am acutely aware of the impact they will have, and I know they will not be welcome, but they are, in our judgment, essential. As government, our clear and overriding duty right now is to act quickly to save lives and protect the NHS. We know that delay or prevarication in the face of this virus almost always makes things worse, not better, even if it stems from an understandable desire that we all share to wait for more data or evidence.

Nicola Sturgeon: (11:28)
Now, to turn to the decisions in detail. The decisions I will speak about a bit later on schools. Let me be clear, at this stage, Presiding Officer, that they will apply to all parts of Scotland. However, the other decisions I’m about to outline will apply to those parts of Scotland currently in level four, which of course is all of mainland Scotland, and they are effectively an enhancement to level four. The island areas, currently in level three, will remain there for now, although we will continue to monitor them very carefully. These additional level four restrictions, essentially returning us to a position similar to the lockdown of last March, will be in place for the whole of January. We will keep them closely under review. However, I can’t, at this stage, rule out having to keep them in place longer nor rule out making further changes.

Nicola Sturgeon: (12:19)
Nothing about the current situation is easy. The first measure is that our fundamental advice for everyone is to stay at home. That is the single best way of staying safe. We consider that this stay at home message and advice is now so important that from tomorrow, it will become law just as it was in the lockdown last year. This means it will only be permissible to leave home for an essential purpose. This will include, for example, caring responsibilities, essential shopping, exercise, and being part of an extended household. In addition, anyone who is able to work from home must do so. It will only be a reasonable excuse to leave your home to go to work if that work cannot be done from home. We are asking people in businesses to take this really seriously, just as seriously as we all did in March during the first lockdown, because the situation now is at least as serious as it was then.

Nicola Sturgeon: (13:19)
The law already requires many businesses in certain sectors to close in level four. We now need every business to look again at their operations and to make sure that every single function that can be done by people working at home is being done in that way. Businesses have already shown a tremendous capacity to adapt during this pandemic, and I’m very grateful to them for that, but we need them to consider their operations again, as we all work together to reduce transmissions. The Economy Secretary will be speaking to business organizations about this, including later this afternoon, and we will engage with trade unions on these issues too. And we will continue to consider if more regulatory action is required. We’re also providing today new guidance to people who are in the shielding category. If you were shielding and you cannot work from home, our clear advice now is that you should not go into work at all.

Nicola Sturgeon: (14:11)
The Chief Medical Officer is writing to everyone who falls into this category and his letter will count as a fit note for those who need it. Unlike the lockdown last year, the frequency of outdoor exercise is not being limited. It is important for physical and mental health that we can get outdoors for fresh air and exercise as much as possible. However, from tomorrow, the rule on outdoor gatherings will change. As of now, up to six people from two households are able to meet outdoors. Given the greater transmissibility of this new variant, we considered it necessary to restrict that further. From tomorrow, a maximum of two people from up to two households will be able to meet outdoors. Children aged 11 and under will not be counted in that limit, and they will also be able to play outdoors in larger groups, including in organized gatherings. However, for everyone else, including 12 to 17 year olds, outdoor exercise should only take place in a way that is consistent with the two people from two households rule.

Nicola Sturgeon: (15:09)
In addition, strict travel restrictions remain in place across Scotland. From tomorrow, if you live in a level four area, as the majority of us do, you cannot leave home except for an essential purpose. When you do go out, stay as close to home as possible and stay away from crowded places. And it remains the case, and let me stress this point, that no one is allowed to travel into or out of Scotland, unless it is for an essential purpose. Presiding Officer, a number of other measures will come into effect on Friday of this week. It is with real regret that we considered it necessary for places of worship to close during this period for all purposes, except broadcasting a service or conducting a funeral, wedding, or civil partnership. I’m well aware of how important communal worship is to people, but we believe this restriction is necessary to reduce the risk of transmission. While up to 20 people will still be able to attend funeral services, wakes will not be possible during January and a maximum of five people will be able to attend wedding and civil partnership services. Presiding Officer, I know how devastating restrictions like these ones are. And I give an assurance that we will not keep them in place for any longer than is absolutely necessary. There will also be additional measures in relation to businesses in addition to the tightening of the essential retail definition that took effect from Boxing Day. The current one meter exemption for workplace canteens will end, so canteens will have to ensure that employees sit two meters or more apart rather than one meter. The number of non-essential services which remain open will be further restricted. Premises which will need to close as a result of these changes will include, for example, ski centers, showrooms of larger retailers, and clinics offering cosmetic and aesthetic procedures. I know that many businesses have already been hit by the restrictions which were put in place on Boxing Day.

Nicola Sturgeon: (16:58)
And of course, I know that the vast majority of businesses have taken the responsibility seriously and invested in COVID safety measures. In addition, the move to homeworking has brought challenges for workers and employers. I’m hugely grateful for the way in which businesses and their staff have responded to those challenges. Grants are, of course, available for businesses required to close as a result of restrictions. That support is in addition to support through the UK-wide furlough scheme. The Scottish government’s financial support for businesses during the pandemic currently totals more than 2.3 billion pounds, but we will continue to assess what more we can do, either in closure grants or other forms of support to help businesses and those who work for them. We’ll also be working with councils to ensure community and social support for those who need it, including for parents balancing work and online learning. We will confirm additional resources for these purposes later this week.

Nicola Sturgeon: (17:51)
Presiding Officer, the final substantive issue I want to address before giving an update on vaccination relates to schools. We announced before Christmas that most school pupils would learn remotely rather than in school until Monday, 18th January. I can confirm that we have now decided to extend that date and keep schools closed to the majority of pupils until the 1st of February. We will review this again in mid-January. The change will apply to all pupils except vulnerable children and children of key workers, and it includes nursery schools as well as primary and secondary schools. There’s no doubt at all that of all the difficult decisions we have had to take today, this was the most difficult of all. And its impact is of course the most severe. The evidence to date makes clear that thanks to the hard work of school staff and pupils, schools in Scotland have been low-risk environments for COVID.

Nicola Sturgeon: (18:45)
We will work with partners to ensure that can remain the case. That will include ongoing work on testing in schools and discussions about when, in the context of the overall program, it will be possible to vaccinate school staff. And I want to be clear that it remains our priority to get school buildings open again for all pupils as quickly as possible, and then keep them open. But right now, two factors mean that it is not consistent with our safety first approach for all children to attend school in person. First, the overall level of community transmission is simply too high. We need to get transmission down before schools can safely reopen. A period of online learning will also, in turn, help us to do that. The second reason is that there is still significant uncertainty about the impact of the new variant on transmission amongst young people.

Nicola Sturgeon: (19:35)
We therefore have to adopt a cautious approach at this stage, and that’s why most pupils will be learning online for at least the rest of the month. We will review on 18th January, whether they can, as we hope, return to school on the 1st of February. I know that remote learning presents significant challenges for teachers, schools, parents, and young people, and we will work to support children and parents throughout this. The government, Education Scotland, and local authorities are working together to further improve the remote learning options available for schools. And it’s also worth highlighting that since schools returned after the summer, more than 50,000 devices, such as laptops, have been distributed to children and young people to help with remote learning. More devices are being distributed by councils on a weekly basis, and in total, we expect our investment, which builds on existing local authority action, to benefit around 70,000 disadvantaged children and young people across the country.

Nicola Sturgeon: (20:27)
I also want to stress one final point. Just as the last places we ever want to close our schools and nurseries, so it is the case that schools and nurseries will be the first places we want to reopen as we re-emerge from this latest period of lockdown. They remain our priority. That is why we are considering whether and to what extent, consistent with our overall duty to vaccinate the most vulnerable first in line with JCVI recommendations, we can achieve vaccination of school and child care staff as a priority. Let me point out, though, that many teachers will of course be vaccinated over coming weeks as part of the JCVI priority list. The fortnightly review will not simply be a choice between opening and closing schools. We will always seek to maximize the number of pupils we can safely get back to classrooms and nurseries.

Nicola Sturgeon: (21:16)
So if the evidence tells us we can get some pupils back safely, that is what we will do. However, ultimately the best way of enabling more pupils to return more quickly is by reducing community transmission of the virus as much as possible and all of us, by accepting and abiding by the wider restrictions I have set out today, have a part to play in achieving that. Before I leave the issue of education, let me simply remind the chamber that we already had plans in place for the staggered return of universities and colleges. We will be considering this week whether any further change to that plan is necessary.

Nicola Sturgeon: (21:50)
Presiding Officer, before I close today, I want to give a brief update on our current expectations around vaccine supply. The Health Secretary will give a more detailed update on vaccination and a statement to the chamber next week. However, I can confirm today that well over a hundred thousand people have now received their first dose of vaccine. The first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are being administered in Scotland today. In total, over the period to the end of January, including the more than 100,000 already administered, we expect to have access to just over 900,000 doses of vaccine, although obviously we hope that number will increase. These will be split roughly equally between the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines. However, we anticipate that some of the AstraZeneca portion will be available only in the last week of January.

Nicola Sturgeon: (22:40)
We don’t yet have certainty on supply schedules beyond January, but we will keep Parliament updated as these become firmer. However, our current expectation, based on assumptions about supply and also on the new advice on doses being administered up to 12 weeks apart rather than three, is that by early May, everyone over 50 and people under 50 with specific underlying conditions will have received at least the first dose of vaccine.

Nicola Sturgeon: (23:06)
And that is everyone who is on the JCVI priority list and comprises more than two and a half million people. Once everyone on the priority list has been vaccinated, we will start vaccinating the rest of the population and we will do this in parallel with completing second doses for those on the priority list. Those time tables are, of course, heavily dependent on supply, and for that reason, they are at this stage cautious. However, I have tasked our vaccination team with exploring and keeping under ongoing review all possible options to speed up the rate of vaccination and bring these timescales forward as far as we possibly can. I’m grateful for the many offers of assistance we have received and while many of them may not prove possible or practical to take up, they will all be considered. And as I said, the Health Secretary will say more about all of this in her statement next week.

Nicola Sturgeon: (23:56)
Presiding Officer, to conclude, this is most certainly not the New Year statement I wanted to give, and I know it is a statement no one wanted to hear. But as I said at the beginning, we are now in a race between the vaccine and the virus. The Scottish Government will do everything we can to speed up distribution of the vaccine, but all of us must do everything we can to slow down the spread of the virus. We can already see by looking at infection rates elsewhere at some of what could happen here in Scotland if we don’t act.

Nicola Sturgeon: (24:23)
To prevent that, we must act immediately and firmly. For government, that means introducing tough measures as we have done so today, and for all of us, it means sticking to the rules. It means continuing to follow the facts, guidance, and it means, above all, staying at home. That is, again, our central message. Stay home, save lives, protect the NHS. If we do this, we give the vaccine the time it needs to get ahead and ultimately win this race. I know that the next few weeks will be incredibly difficult. I’m sorry to ask for further sacrifices after nine long months of them. But these sacrifices are necessary. And the difference between now and last March is that with the help of vaccines, we-

Nicola Sturgeon: (25:03)
And the difference between now and last March is that with the help of vaccines, we know have confidence that these sacrifices will pave the way to brighter days ahead. So for everyone’s sake and for everyone’s safety, please stick with it and stay at home.

Speaker 1: (25:16)
Thank you very much, First Minister. First Minister will now take questions. Ruth Davidson. Thank you.

Ruth Davidson: (25:21)
Thank you, first of all, presiding officer. May I offer the condolences of myself and of my party on the news of the passing of Kay Ullrich, who was respected across this chamber. And I too am grateful to you, presiding officer, for recalling parliament for today’s statement. Nobody wants to live under restrictions for a moment longer than is absolutely necessary, or for those restrictions to be any tighter than needed.

Ruth Davidson: (25:42)
However, the increase in infection rate and the transmissibility of the new variant gives grave cause for concern. We have come too far to throw all our efforts away, and the rollout of the vaccine means that we can see a time soon when all this will begin to be over.

Ruth Davidson: (25:58)
That being said, this is hard news at a hard time when the resilience of people across the country has already been worn down over the past year. Many will be dismayed by today’s news, not least the parents of school pupils who now have to rip up their childcare plans, negotiate with their employers, and worry about their children’s fractured education. The Children’s and Young People’s Commissioner has expressed concerns that closing schools poses a serious risk of harm to the wellbeing of children and young people. And he’s also warned that support for online learning is being provided inconsistently across Scotland, and that there’s not enough national guidance and support for schools from government ministers, threatening a further widening of the attainment gap. So could I ask what further steps this Scottish government is taking now to address these concerns and to ensure that Scottish pupils continue to get equal access to high quality education?

Speaker 1: (26:49)
First minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (26:50)
Well, can I firstly agree that this will be very hard news for everybody across Scotland to hear today and to contemplate the reality of over these next few weeks. I want to reiterate to people again these are decisions that we do not take lightly. We agonize over them and we only announce restrictions like this if we really feel there is no alternative. And right now, the only alternative is greater loss of life and the potential for the national health service to be overwhelmed. And speed of action at this point in time is the most important factor of all.

Nicola Sturgeon: (27:24)
The decision we most agonized over was the further closure of schools for the majority of pupils. The issue of schools closed or open has been contentious in the most recent weeks and teachers and others have understandably raised concerns. But I hope people see that from the responses of the government and the actions of the government that we have striven, and will continue to strive to keep schools open as normally as possible, as often, and for as long as possible. And this decision today is one that we deem necessarily for the reasons I set out.

Nicola Sturgeon: (27:58)
We will, and the education secretary will set out four MSPs to ensure that this happens, over the next couple of days, the steps that are being taken to ensure that the provision of online education is as parents want it to be, and the local authorities are working to ensure that that is of a consistent quality across the country. We have already taken steps, as I indicated in my opening remarks, to ensure that more young people have access to digital devices to make online learning more accessible to them at schools. And local authorities already have contingency plans in place that is advice for parents available via at the parent club website.

Nicola Sturgeon: (28:39)
Parents can also speak direct to schools for more advice at the national online learning platform. [inaudible 00:28:45] has seen a huge increase in users and usage since earlier last year. And we are working actively with local and national partners to enhance the online and remote learning options for pupils. And that’s work that will continue over the course of next week and for as long as is necessary. But let me end this answer with a reiteration of the point that we want this to be for as short period as necessary for all of the reasons that I think everybody understands and agrees with.

Speaker 1: (29:13)
Ruth Davidson

Ruth Davidson: (29:15)
Today’s announcement underscores the need to have a comprehensive test and trace system in place. In August the first minister promised that between UK government lighthouse labs and NHS Scotland facilities, that we would have the capacity for 65,000 tests per day. However, the highest number of tests carried out in a single day was 30,619 on Christmas day, with currently a third of tests carried out by NHS Scotland and the majority by the lighthouse labs.

Ruth Davidson: (29:41)
She also promised that three regional hubs for testing would be opened by the end of December, but so far only two have done so. The test positivity rate over the last seven days is now the highest it has ever been since the Scottish government started publishing this data in August. So can I ask the First Minister, is there capacity in Scotland to carry out 65,000 tests per day? And if there is, why are the actual tests carried out on any day well below half of that capacity? And when will the Edinburgh regional hub be open for testing?

Speaker 1: (30:09)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (30:10)
Yes, there is capacity for 65,000 tests a day. That target that we said earlier in the year was made by Christmas. he number of tests that are actually carried out on any given day is largely demand driven, because it is people who have symptoms coming forward for testing, and we have seen, and I think we will continue to see, that number rise as unfortunately this faster spreading strain of the virus infects more people. But the capacity and the demand for testing will often not be numbers that are exactly the same for obvious reasons.

Nicola Sturgeon: (30:45)
Of course we do increasingly … although some of the asymptomatic testing is not done through the PCR testing that goes through the laboratory network. Some of that is now done by lateral flow testing, which don’t appear in these numbers. But some asymptomatic testing is done in this way, care home staff, for example, which we are in the process, well through the process of transferring from the lighthouse lab network to the NHS Scotland lab network. We do have a well-functioning test and protect system, and it continues to be a really important part of our response to this virus.

Nicola Sturgeon: (31:24)
But as we have a virus that is spreading faster, and then we have to have a range of different responses to that in order to compliment the test and protect. And of course, in terms of interventions, just as test and protect has been important, the vaccine program becomes increasingly important over the next period. And lastly, there has been a last minute issue, or probably not literally the last minute, but late stage issue in the Edinburgh regional lab with a sprinkler system as I understand it, which is in the process of being rectified. And that is due to open shortly.

Speaker 1: (31:57)
Ruth Davidson.

Ruth Davidson: (32:00)
Today’s announcement of further restrictions is particularly difficult to take when we’ve had such positive news in recent weeks of vaccines being approved and that have been bought in such quantities by the UK government. In our statement, the First Minister said that we are in a race between the vaccine and the virus. It is impossible to know if we’re winning that race at any given time if we only show the daily infection figures without the daily vaccination figures. The public needs more information on precisely how the rollout is going, both nationally and in their own area, as well as when they will receive their dose. Also last week, the health secretary said that those aged over 80 will be invited to attend their vaccinations by letter. So can the First Minister commit today to publish not just the national vaccination figures, but also the numbers vaccinated by health boards so that people can see the progress in their own communities? And can she tell us now when everyone in the over 80 cohort will receive their letter with vaccination appointment details?

Speaker 1: (32:53)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (32:54)
On publication, I think I said last week when parliament was recalled in response to the question from the Labour benches that we are intending to break down the weekly publication of the numbers of vaccinated into categories. And also I would hope that we would do that regionally by health board as well. I will consider whether there is a potential to have a greater frequency of publication. We are currently doing that weekly. I am simply mindful of not putting too many burdens of data collection and publication on people that we are expecting to undertake this huge logistical challenge. So it may be that weekly publication remains the best balance with that data breakdown of statistics.

Nicola Sturgeon: (33:36)
The vaccine program is … of course, because it is not that long since the vaccines have been approved, particularly the AstraZeneca one, it’s still in its early stage. But we have vaccinated more than a hundred thousand people. The percentage at this stage, it’s a small percentage of the population that has been vaccinated. It is slightly higher in Scotland than in the other UK nations, but we will have to continue to focus on accelerating that as much as possible, as I said earlier on. That is at the moment largely constrained by supply. But we know what we expect. Hopefully that’s a conservative small [inaudible 00:34:12] estimate for January. We are not yet clear what supplies we can expect for beyond January.

Nicola Sturgeon: (34:18)
In terms of the call for those in the over 80 population, that will start shortly and be an ongoing process. We have obviously been recalculating or modeling for the speed and timescale of vaccination as a result of the changed chief medical officer advice on doing the second dose of the vaccine up to 12 weeks after the first dose, as opposed to three weeks. That will allow us to get the first dose of vaccine to more people much more quickly. And we are making sure that we take full advantage of that as we take full advantage of the supplies of the vaccine, as we get them.

Speaker 1: (34:57)
Ruth Davidson.

Ruth Davidson: (34:59)
There are immediate practical questions that are raised by today’s announcement, and one of the primary ones is the legal requirement for people to work from home where they can. This raises all sorts of issues, including who is a key worker and what constitutes essential labor in a workplace outside of the home. Also, who makes these decisions and what is the process of arbitration in the event of a dispute between a workplace and a local authority or a boss and an employee? In the first lockdown, we saw different interpretations between local authorities and different services provided depending on category. People need to know what these new rules are, how they will apply to them, and what recourse exists where there’s conflict. So will the First Minister give clarity on these important points?

Speaker 1: (35:38)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (35:39)
We will set out more guidance on these points. On the issue of a key worker in the context of education, look, authorities have specifically asked for some flexibility around that, which I think is important to afford them. There is a balance to be struck here. In terms of business, we are not as of now in quite as restrictive a position in terms of non-essential work in construction and manufacturing, for example, being closed as we were back in March, but that is something we need to keep under review both in terms of the spread of the virus, but also that really important relationship, which I do understand, between people’s ability to work, or requirement to work, rather, under the ability to look after children and take part in online learning for the children at home.

Nicola Sturgeon: (36:26)
The economy secretary will be having discussions as early as this afternoon with business organizations and will be discussing with trade unions to make sure that we help people, just as we did back in March, navigate their way through what I recognize is a difficult situation. But the message to businesses is we are asking you again, as you did in March, to very rigorously scrutinize your own operations and assure yourself that the people that you are requiring be at work are genuinely only people that cannot do their job at home. There is a need to make sure that as many people as possible who can work from home are supported to do that.

Speaker 1: (37:05)
Thank you. Richard Leonard.

Richard Leonard: (37:07)
Thank you, presiding officer. And can I begin by offering the condolences of the Scottish Labour Party to the family of Kay Ullrich, who was widely respected right across the spectrum of Scottish politics. The issue here today is not just whether schools and school buildings are open or not. It is about how much preparation has been made by the government for the continuation of our children’s education. It is about whether the remote learning materials, which we were promised were ready back in July, are ready now, six months later. It is about where the teachers have the support they need, whether plans are in place, and whether they have the resources they require to back it up. And it is about how much support there is for working parents, what the plan is for them. For example, does the first minister have a plan to encourage all businesses to furlough all working parents who need to take time off to support their children? Can the First Minister assure us that all of this is in place?

Speaker 1: (38:15)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (38:16)
What I’m not going to do is pretend to people that any of these things are easy. They’re not easy for the people who are having to live with the consequences, and these things are not easy for any government anywhere. But yes, we are, as we did earlier in the pandemic and at the outset when we were in lockdown previously, we will do everything we can to help people both navigate their way through these decisions, but also deal with the impact of them. So we have taken significant steps around online learning. For example, the national e-learning offer, which is a collaborative program involving Scottish government education in Scotland, and local government has already helped improve the options that are available to schools that has enhanced the provision for live remote learning, recorded lessons, and supported learning via online digital learning. One initiative within that is [inaudible 00:00:39:10], which is refreshed and has expanded its range of study support, courses. And there are a range of courses, ranging from national 5 to advanced higher available in that.

Nicola Sturgeon: (39:19)
So there’s a number of ways in which that support it has already been strengthened, but we will continue to work to do that on an ongoing basis. But fundamentally, the priority here in getting transmission down again is to keep the period of schools being closed as short as possible. As I said earlier on, we will be discussing, led by the economy secretary, starting today with business organizations and the expectation on businesses to do everything they can to support their workers to work from home and to support workers who have childcare responsibilities. And we’ll keep parliament updated in any further initiatives that arise from that. But I know businesses have already worked hard to do that. And this, again, we are at a stage here where we need to have a massive national collective endeavor to overcome this severe challenge we face. And I know and expect that businesses will play their full part in that.

Speaker 1: (40:09)
Richard Leonard.

Richard Leonard: (40:11)
Thank you, presiding officer. Let me stick to the theme of support for working people. In October, the government promised to protect low income workers from financial hardship should they be asked to self isolate by test and protect. However, the 500 pound grant does not seem to be reaching many of those low paid workers who have applied for it. According to the government’s most recent data published in December, 23%, fewer than a quarter of individuals who applied to the self isolation support scheme actually received a payment. With the infection rate rising, more and more working people will be required to self isolate. So can the First Minister therefore tell us why the award rate for this vital payment for low-income households is so low and what she will do to drive it up?

Speaker 1: (41:00)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (41:00)
The eligibility criteria for the 500 pounds of support payment was set out at the establishment of that. That is tied to entitlement to benefits, although we sought in Scotland to have a degree of flexibility around that. And that of course is administered to the Scottish Welfare Fund. We will continue to look at how we ensure that support for self isolation and more general support for the new circumstances we are in right now reaches more people. At the outset of the pandemic, we made significant resources available to support communities and to people in deprived communities. In particular, we’ll be discussing with the local authorities, how we refresh and supplement that. We also of course had the 100 million pounds winter support package, which saw grants go to low-income families before Christmas and had a range of other support for organizations that support people in poverty, as well as different groups living in poverty.

Nicola Sturgeon: (41:52)
So we’ve done a great deal here, but we recognize in these new circumstances, more severe circumstances we are in for the next period, we have to continue to increase what we are doing. And I indicated in my statement that later this week, we will set out announcements about additional resources that will cover many of these key aspects, support for communities, support for particularly vulnerable groups, parental support, and any additional support in addition to the support strands that are already there for business that we are going to be able to make available for companies affected.

Speaker 1: (42:27)
Richard Leonard.

Richard Leonard: (42:29)
Thank you. But if 77% of those people who applied to the self isolation support scheme do not receive a payment, then it seems to me there is something wrong with the way the scheme is operating. We all recognize that the new variant of COVID-19 demands new action to suppress its spread. The advice from Sage is that actions, such as delaying the second dose of the vaccine, is only one part of a comprehensive, ambitious strategy to do this.

Richard Leonard: (42:55)
However, one very senior government advisor less than two weeks ago said in response to a question about immunity from the first dose, I quote, “They get a little bit, but it is not like 50% and then another 50%. These numbers are not right, but it is more like 10% and 90%. So the second dose is much more important on top of the first dose.” Then a week later, a statement from the joint committee on vaccination and immunization said, and I quote them, “Short term vaccine efficacy from the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine is calculated at around 90%. Short-term vaccine efficacy from the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is calculated at around 70%.” Maintaining public confidence in the vaccination program is critical, but that requires ensuring messages are clear and consistent, clear and consistent from all government advisers. Can the First Minister take responsibility for that, and come the First Minister today set out the expected number of people to be vaccinated each week based on current assumptions?

Speaker 1: (44:10)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (44:11)
I take responsibility for all aspects of the government’s handling of this. I’ve never tried to shy away from that. I think consistent messaging is important. I must admit, as an aside, I have struggled week to week to know what Richard Leonard is actually expecting the government to do. It’s gone from easing restrictions to more severe restrictions. So these things are difficult, but I understand the importance of it. Before I come on to the issue of vaccine dosage, which is important, let me just round off the first point on the support payment. We have already extended eligibility for that, since it was introduced and we will continue to look at … to do that.

Nicola Sturgeon: (44:49)
On the issue of the two doses and the 12 weeks or up to 12 weeks between two doses, this is clinical advice. I take responsibility for every aspect of the government’s response to this, but I am not clinically qualified. I rely on advisors to give us the best possible advice on these matters. The four chief medical officers have collectively given this advice to the four governments on dosing, and they have done that on the basis that this allows us to vaccinate more people with a significant degree of immunity more quickly than the original strategy would.

Nicola Sturgeon: (45:23)
And given the race we are in and the circumstances that we face, I think if they believe that that is a safe and sensible thing to do, then I think it is incumbent on politicians at to follow that advice. The short term efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine is 90%, and 70% from the AstraZeneca vaccine from the first dose. This actually is in a letter that I think went to MSPs yesterday or this morning. And I know a briefing has been offered to all MSPs from the chief medical officer on this matter.

Nicola Sturgeon: (45:55)
Can I just … while I’ve got the opportunity, there has been another issue raised about vaccination policy in the last two days, the suggestion that people may get the first dose of one vaccine and the second dose of the other vaccine. That is not a policy in Scotland. That is not what the chief medical officer advises. So unless there were really exceptional circumstances where perhaps it wasn’t known what vaccine had been given in the first dose, the policy at this stage is that people will get both doses with the same vaccine. And it’s an opportunity for me to give clear and consistent messaging on that point.

Speaker 1: (46:30)
Thank you, Patrick Harvie, who joins us remotely.

Patrick Harvie: (46:35)
Thank you, presiding officer. Can I thank the First Minister for the statement, and like others, add my condolences and those of the Scottish Green Party to the friends, family, and colleagues of Kay Ullrich. Once again, we’re seeing the announcement of new measures, which everyone will find regrettable, but I think the vast majority of people will recognize are necessary.

Patrick Harvie: (46:56)
But with schools closing for longer than planned, there is a need for a package of practical support for parents, not only from government, but also from employers. And those needs will be particularly significant, especially for single parents, those in cramped conditions, and those coping with working from home while schools are closed. People struggled last time, but they got through. They need and deserve our help if they have to do it again.

Patrick Harvie: (47:24)
I want to ask the First Minister though about the uncertainty, about the impact of the new variant on transmission among young people. The First Minister recognized that uncertainty. Does she agree that we will need … over the next couple of weeks before the review period, we will need clarity on those issues. We will need to have answers that give us confidence about that question of transmission among young people, and we need that information before we’ll be able to know if it’s safe to fully reopen schools or before we can know what additional measures are necessary to keep them safe.

Speaker 1: (48:01)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (48:02)
Yes, I do agree with that. We have been determined, as everybody knows, from the moment schools reopened in August to now to keep schools open. That has been contentious at times, and legitimate concerns have been raised. But I have at every stage being satisfied on the basis of the advice I’ve been given and my understanding of the situation and the data that we have gathered and has been published by Public Health, Scotland, and in the data published by the ONS. I’ve been satisfied that schools could safely reopen. And while not all teachers, not all parents have agreed with that, I have felt able to look at teachers and parents in the eye and see that that is my clear judgment based on the advice I’ve given. That has changed for this moment in time for the two reasons I set out, the higher level of community transmission and the uncertainty amongst the scientific community of the impact on transmission amongst young people of this new variant. Some evidence or some opinion that I have seen and read and tried to understand it suggests it may be more likely to infect young people. Others think that that may be an apparent effect because in England during the November lockdown, schools would open while many of the places adults would go were closed.

Nicola Sturgeon: (49:22)
So we need to understand that more. I hope we will have a greater understanding of that in the weeks to come. But yes, of course. There can be no greater responsibility than making sure the schools we send our children to are safe. And therefore in order to get schools back and again, as I desperately want to do, and will strive to do as quickly as possible, I need to be satisfied in order that I can say to teachers and parents that it is safe to do so. And we will be looking at all of these issues very carefully.

Nicola Sturgeon: (49:49)
But lastly, on this point … well, before I just briefly touch on the other point Patrick Harvie raised, we all have a part to play here. If we all abide by and accept these tough restrictions that we’re setting out today, we can bring community transmission down.

Nicola Sturgeon: (50:03)
Restrictions that we’re setting out today, we can bring community transmission down, and that creates the best possible conditions for getting schools back open. And very briefly, I agree with them that we need a package of support for parents over this next period. The government will play a part in that, we will work with businesses to ensure that they do, and we will be working with counsels with additional resources to make sure that that can be made available.

Speaker 2: (50:22)
Patrick Harvey.

Patrick Harvie: (50:25)
It does seem from that answer that if scientific uncertainty still exists two weeks today when the session about schools is going to be reviewed, then the Scottish government is committing to taking a precautionary approach. I hope that the first minister also agrees that teaching unions are rightly concerned about the safety of pupils and the wider community, as well as the safety of school staff. It has been appalling to see some people, including prominent political figures who should know better, appearing to question the judgment of unions, and even their integrity in their call for precautionary response to the pandemic. So will the first minister commit to working together with the teaching unions on the challenges facing schools?

Patrick Harvie: (51:10)
And in particular, I welcome the fact that the statement today appears to acknowledge that more needs to be done to accelerate vaccination for teachers and other school staff. Can the first minister assure us that teachers and school staff will see meaningful progress on this before the review date on the 18th of January.

Speaker 2: (51:30)
First minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (51:32)
[inaudible 00:51:32] the opportunity first of all, not because Patrick Harvey has tried to create an alternative impression, because there will be a lot of parents watching this right now, there is no evidence at all that this virus is leading to more severe illness amongst young people, and there is no conclusive evidence that it is even more likely to infect young people at all, and I think it’s important to reassure parents. But there are some uncertainties around the impact it has, and whether, even if it’s not leading to greater infection risks within groups of young people, whether they may be more likely to carry it and infect older people, whether that’s parents or teachers. It’s important that we give ourselves the time for the scientific community to come to a more certain view of that.

Nicola Sturgeon: (52:13)
Secondly, we work with [inaudible 00:52:16] deputy first minister in particular, works with the education unions. They are involved, integrally involved in the education recovery group, which of course met this morning and made the recommendation that I’ve announced today to cabinet. I respect the views of unions, I would never doubt for a single second their integrity or their motivations of this, and I would deprecate anybody who does. That doesn’t mean we will always reach a position where we’re in absolute agreement, the issue of schools has been contentious, but the commitment I will give is that I will always take the upmost care in these decisions around schools, and satisfy myself as the deputy first minister does in the advice we get about the safety of schools. That’s been true in the past, and in these changed circumstances, it will be true in the future. Finally on vaccination, again, I don’t want to in any way oversimplify a complex issue here. We all want to get everybody vaccinated as quickly as possible, and key groups in particular. Teachers and school staff would allow us to give that greater assurance to teachers in the determination to get schools reopened.

Nicola Sturgeon: (53:21)
But we have very clear expert clinical advice about the need to prioritize those who are clinically most at risk of getting ill and dying from this virus, and ethically, we have a duty to make sure that we use the supplies we have to do that first. Many teachers will be in these groups, teachers over 50, or teachers under 50 who have other health conditions, but beyond that, we want to get teachers vaccinated and school staff generally vaccinated as quickly as possible, but we must make sure we are following the advice about those clinically most at need, and we will be discussing internally in government with our advisors and with teaching unions and local authorities how we can accelerate that whole process, because we understand the central importance of that.

Speaker 2: (54:06)
Willie Renny.

Willie Renny: (54:09)
I wish to express my condolences at the sad [inaudible 00:54:13] as well. There will be a price to pay in terms of mental health, economic wellbeing, health services, inequality, and the loss of education. But I agree that the evidence supports the return of stricter measures. It would be a tragedy if the NHS was to be overwhelmed, and more lives lost, when the protective coat of this new vaccine was within touching distance for millions of people. And I want to ask about childcare. There will be more people back at work, especially as construction and manufacturing continues compared with this spring, but what advice has the first minister got for working parents, those not of key workers, but for working parents?

Willie Renny: (54:59)
What advice, what support is available, and what childcare will be available for them? The availability of informal childcare and child [inaudible 00:55:09] is much more restricted than is necessary, so therefore what advice would she give to those families to make sure that they have the appropriate childcare?

Speaker 2: (55:19)
Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (55:20)
Well, to firstly agree that there is a price in all sorts of respects that will be paid possibly for… definitely for some time to come for this pandemic in Scotland, the UK, Europe, and in the world. But there will be a much bigger price to pay if we do not act to get this virus under control, and that is the central driving imperative that motivates the government each and every single day. On childcare, my advice to… firstly, I’m not going to insult the intelligence of any parent. This is a really difficult situation, nothing I can say standing here takes away the challenges that parents are confronted with right now. We will do everything we can to help in a range of different ways. The key worker provision and flexibility that we’ve left local authorities with there is the first part of how we will do that. There is the possibility, although it is more restricted, for informal childcare where there are no other alternatives.

Nicola Sturgeon: (56:14)
We will also, as I’ve said a couple of times in response to previous questions, work with businesses to make sure businesses are helping parents who are amongst their workforces who have childcare responsibilities, and we will be looking in very short order, including with additional resources, [inaudible 00:56:30] the practical support. This will be a package of support, but I don’t want to stand here and suggest that that takes away every difficulty that working parents will face over this next very difficult period, which is why the most important thing we can do, and this is a job for government, but a job for all of us, is to get this virus under control, so this period of schools and early years education not operating normally is as short as we can possibly make it.

Speaker 2: (57:01)
Willie Renny.

Willie Renny: (57:04)
[inaudible 00:57:04] the first minister with regards to that, we know that the threat of the virus increases with the age of the individual, so is the first minister considering the reopening of nurseries and primary schools at an earlier stage than secondary schools after February? And can I ask about the islands as well? I see that they are remaining in level three, but their schools are to close. What is the justification for that? Many of the islands don’t have adequate broadband, and will find remote learning quite difficult, so what provisions are going to be made available to them, and what’s the justification for the decision?

Speaker 2: (57:38)
First minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (57:40)
In terms of the justification for the decision, it is about the uncertainty, about the impact of transmission on young people, and therefore if schools were to remain open in these areas, if that was a bigger impact than has been the case before, that may jeopardize the overall stability of these areas in terms of the levels of the virus, so it is a calamitous and precautionary decision. We have decided to leave the island communities in level three, we look very carefully at Shetland, because Shetland has had a high number of cases in recent days, but the indications yesterday and today are that that is stabilizing, but of course we’ll be monitoring that very carefully indeed, and I absolutely take the point about the greater accessibility issues around digital and broadband, and we’ll discuss what more we can do to assess with not just island, but remote communities in that respect as well.

Nicola Sturgeon: (58:28)
In response to Willie Renny’s first point, yes we will consider… I deliberately made the point in my statement that when it comes to getting schools back, it will not be necessarily a binary open or closed. If we can get some pupils back ahead of all pupils, that’s what we will do. Obviously one of the things we will be looking at is whether primary schools could come back even before we felt it safe to bring secondary schools back. If we feel it is not safe by the time we get to that review point on the 18th of January, so all of these things will be very much under consideration. We want as many children… we want all children to be in school as normal as quickly as possible, but short of that, we want as many to get back as quickly as possible.

Speaker 2: (59:09)
Thank you. Call Kenneth Gibson to be followed by Jimmy Green.

Kenneth Gibson: (59:13)
Thank you presiding officer. Vaccination is clearly the key to defeating the virus, and so having people trained to inoculate and assist the process is of great importance. In England, volunteers have been put off by having to complete 21 forms including on such irrelevant topics as deradicalization and fire safety. Can the first minister clarify that the Scottish government has minimized bureaucratic impairments to vaccination? And given the new lockdown, what steps will be taken to ensure compliance, as many [inaudible 00:59:40] are concerned that compliance can be patchy, inevitably leading to viral spread.

Speaker 2: (59:46)
First minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (59:46)
Firstly, we don’t have the same requirement for the kind of form filling that has raised concerns in England, and I heard I think, yesterday I heard the prime minister say that they were trying to sort that out as well. I don’t think any of us want to put unnecessary barriers, any unnecessary barriers in the way of this at all, though it is important with any clinical program that the right checks are in place. We have around 2,300 vaccinators already registered, and the program is gearing up as we speak, and will gather pace literally with every day that passes right now. Kenny Gibson raises an important point about compliance, the [inaudible 01:00:25] increase their visibility over the Christmas period in terms of travel restrictions, but we will continue to, and they will continue to see enforcement as a last resort. My message to everybody right now, if you have, which would be understandable given the longevity of this, been finding your compliance with these restrictions dipping, particularly over the Christmas period, if there is ever a point to really really think about this and abide by these restrictions, it is now. We face a perilous situation, a more serious situation than any time since the outset of this, and we cannot afford to have anybody inadvertently spreading this virus, and that’s a message to all of us, to make sure that we are redoubling all of our efforts in all respects.

Speaker 2: (01:01:06)
Jimmy Green to be followed by Monica Lenin.

Jimmy Green: (01:01:08)
Thank you. Our inboxes are full of e-mails from parents and teachers who are concerned about their health, the health of their children, and the safety of schools. But also I think rightly concerned about education too. The reality is starting off, so we don’t know how long online learning will now last. The question is why 10 months into this pandemic is every single pupil in Scotland still not able to fully access online learning already? And can I also ask the first minister if it is schools, nurseries, and teachers themselves who will provide for the children of key workers, or will local counsels be asked to reopen learning hubs?

Speaker 2: (01:01:41)
First minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:01:42)
Schools will remain open for the children of key workers and for vulnerable children and teachers will be part of that. We have set out already the steps we’ve taken to continually improve the provision of online learning, and that is not something that we think is job done, and there’s no more to do, that will continue on an ongoing basis. So from the distribution of devices through to the other steps that I’ve taken, that is something that we take very seriously. We are all concerned about the impact on education, and that’s why we want this period to be as short as possible, but I would hope, and given sometimes in the face of pressure to the contrary, for understandable, legitimate reasons, I’m not criticizing it, but in face of pressure over the last few months, we have really really been determined to keep schools open. I hope nobody will doubt the government’s determination to get schools back open again just as quickly as we deem it is safe to do so.

Speaker 2: (01:02:34)
Monica Lenin to be followed by Claire Adamson.

Monica Lenin: (01:02:38)
Thank you presiding officer. I know the first minister has a lot of ground to cover in her statement today, but thousands of [inaudible 01:02:47] residents have had little or no meaningful contact with their loved ones since last March, and the statement didn’t address their needs. What hope can the first minister give people living in [inaudible 01:02:59] homes that they will see their relatives again, and what needs to happen for [inaudible 01:03:06] to take place. Is it one vaccine dose, is it two doses? And if it is contingent on vaccination rollout, can you say when that will be complete and [inaudible 01:03:16]?

Speaker 2: (01:03:17)
First minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:03:18)
We will not have restrictions on [inaudible 01:03:21] visiting any longer than is necessary, and I can say that, and I know in saying it that that does not take away the pain, and the anxiety, and the suffering of care home residents and their families who have been through such a traumatic and torrid time over these past few months, but we have a virus that is spreading perhaps 70% faster than the previous strain of the virus that we know took such a toll on care homes, and therefore we’d be negligent if we did not give very stringent advice about the need to restrict indoor care home visiting in particular. We are also, though, and have been now for some time, rolling out further testing within care homes, and obviously care homes residents and staff are in the top priority group for vaccination. So we hope that not too far into this year, we will get to a much better position, and get people much more back to normal with care home visiting. But in the meantime, just as I would say with schools, we’ve all got a part to play here.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:04:20)
If we can drive this virus down, we all help to create the conditions in which this becomes more possible more quickly.

Speaker 2: (01:04:28)
Claire Adamson to be followed by Morris Golden.

Claire Adamson: (01:04:32)
Thank you very much presiding officer. First minister, you have explained in your statement that schools are not closing, but moving to a different way of working. Providing face to face learning for vulnerable children, and those children of key workers, while supporting learning remotely. Given the very serious situation that the first minister has laid out today, this will inevitably bring new worries, stresses, and strains on the whole staff in compliment. How can the first minister ensure that support for the whole school community is available?

Speaker 2: (01:05:07)
First minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:05:07)
Well, I am very aware of the pressures that remote learning will bring for everybody in our school communities, schools of course already have contingency plans for remote learning in place, and I know have though through issues around staff workload and deployment. I want to be very clear to parents, carers, children, young people in particular, that although it may feel as if they are, they’re not alone in this. No one expecting parents or carers to replace teachers, school should be able to provide families with written or digital materials to support learning at home, and of course the national e-learning offer which I’ve already spoken about is helping to improve the options available. Of course if parents or others have questions about support, they should contact their schools in the first instance. But again, the point I’ve made many times before, all of this underlines why it’s so important to get the situation under control, so that we can get our schools open again as quickly as possible.

Speaker 2: (01:05:59)
Thank you. Morris Golden to be followed by Ian Gray.

Morris Golden: (01:06:02)
Thank you presiding officer. Scottish chamber of commerce described today’s news as another blow for our economic recovery. Thousands of businesses are still waiting on support from July, and now we have returned to a full lockdown. More [inaudible 01:06:17] are inevitable. Can the first minister today answer when will the outstanding claims from July be processed? Will the eight new schemes announced on December the 9th launch as planned this month? And when will those businesses receive their first payments? And finally, for those businesses that must close as a result of today’s announcement, can the first minister outline when they will receive support?

Speaker 2: (01:06:44)
First minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:06:45)
Well I know this is a blow for businesses. Today is a blow for everybody. But I make the point, and I don’t make this to sound, because I’m not in any way unsympathetic to the plight of businesses or anybody else, but things will be much, much worse if we don’t take firm, decisive action now to get this virus under control, and we don’t have to look too far to see how much worse things will get if we [inaudible 01:07:08] now, and dleya taking necessary actions, which is why this is tough. I don’t want to be standing here announcing this, but it is necessary in order to avoid the situation deteriorating. Businesses are waiting from July, it is highly likely that businesses have not been eligible for the support they apply for, and in some circumstances, unfortunately, that will be the case. There is a range of funding streams that are already open, and businesses that are newly required to close will be able to apply for those, so the strategic framework business fund is open now.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:07:40)
There is also the local authority discretionary scheme, which by… as the title would suggest, is discretionary for local authorities to meet the needs of businesses that fall through the cracks of other schemes, and may also be available for those who are not eligible for other support schemes, and there’s a range of funding strands for different sectors of the economy as well. So there is significant support already there, I’ve said openly before it will not compensate every business for every loss, but I would encourage businesses to make sure they apply for all that support, and we will continue to look at what more we are able to do in the weeks ahead.

Speaker 2: (01:08:15)
Thank you. Ian Gray is before [inaudible 01:08:18].

Ian Gray: (01:08:17)
Thank you. The first minister has explained why plans for schools in January have changed. These plans previously announced did include teachers and school staff returning to school this week, to staff hubs, and to lead remote learning for other pupils. Many teachers and school staff listening to today’s statement will be unsure now whether they should plan to go into school or not. Can the first minister provide clarity on what our expectation is?

Speaker 2: (01:08:44)
First minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:08:46)
We would expect teachers to still be in schools to help with the provision of key worker and vulnerable children, but my key advice to teachers of course, is to take their guidance from their employer, which is their individual school and local authority, and of course we work through the education recovery group to make sure that that is within a framework that is consistent and understandable to local authorities and to schools.

Speaker 2: (01:09:13)
[inaudible 01:09:13] followed by Donald Cameron.

Speaker 3: (01:09:14)
Thank you. Clearly the size of the local authority [inaudible 01:09:17] and the borders, potentially gives many residents there quite a far distance to go to, shop for essential goods, or undertake exercise compared to more urban authorities. Can the first minister explain whether there were restrictions on the distance that people can travel, and how do we encourage more people to stay at home and close to home if they do go out?

Speaker 2: (01:09:40)
First minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:09:41)
This is an important issue, but it’s one where it is not easy to get the balance right. We want to restrict travel as much as possible, but we have also got to be careful, that particularly in urban areas, if we restrict by distance too much, then we end up people, when they go out for outdoor exercise, end up congregating in very confined spaces, so we are trying to get that balance as right as possible. The stay at home regulations will come into force from midnight, and like the travel regulations, they have exceptions, allow people to go for essential shopping, for exercise, and for other essential purposes like caring for a vulnerable relative. But, and I cannot stress this enough, particularly when it comes to exercise and shopping, people should stay as close to home as possible.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:10:25)
And while it’s important for everyone’s wellbeing that they take exercise outdoors, people should travel only locally to get to a safe, non-crowded place to exercise in a socially distanced way. Just as was the case in March, this is a time for people to stay at home, because that’s how we save lives, and protect the NHS.

Speaker 2: (01:10:44)
Donald Cameron to be followed by Jackie Bealy, Donald Cameron.

Donald Cameron: (01:10:51)
The first minister spoke about vaccinating everyone on a JCVI priority list by early May, however there is still considerable uncertainty about when and where groups on that list will be vaccinated in each health board area. While this is of course dependent on supply, as has been recognized, can the first minister commit to publishing precise time scales and locations across Scotland for each group on the priority list? And thus bring some much needed clarity to members of those groups waiting to be vaccinated?

Speaker 2: (01:11:22)
First minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:11:24)
[inaudible 01:11:24] reminded me that every MSP got sent last week, a communication that had a map of every health board’s initial plans for vaccination in terms of the GP and community provision. If any members have not received that, then the health secretary will be happy to send that again. There are some issues that we cannot be definitive about right now, because of what I sent out, the remaining uncertainties about overall supply schedules, and the time phasing of the schedule of supply. That information is becoming clearer all the time, and I hope will become much clearer and much firmer in the days ahead. And as it does, we will make sure parliament is updated on that, and crucially of course, as people start to get the invitations for vaccination, that will become very clear to the public as well. We are following the clinical priority list of the JCVI, which is important to do, because that is based on the people most likely to get ill and die if they get this virus.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:12:21)
That list in totality is I think about 2.7 million people, and that’s the list that our reasonably cautious plan at the moment says that we will complete at least the first dose of everybody on that list by early May, but we want to accelerate that if it is possible to do, and that’s what we’ve tasked the vaccination team with exploring all options to achieve.

Speaker 2: (01:12:43)
Jackie Bealy to be followed by John Mason.

Jackie Bealy: (01:12:45)
Given that this is a race against time, rolling out the vaccination must be a top priority, so can I ask the first minister, if we can provide daily reports on COVID-19 cases, can we not also provide daily reports on the number of people vaccinated? I did in fact receive the health sector’s communication, but as I recall, the anticipated time scales for vaccinations weren’t included. Can that be provided as soon as possible? And will she consider using retired NHS staff who have experience of giving injections to help accelerate the program?

Jackie Bealy: (01:13:18)
And finally, given the reports in the Sunday papers about NHS greater Glasgow and [inaudible 01:13:23], I welcome her comments on the government’s policy position, but what practical action has she taken to ensure that those getting second doses in that health board area will have the same vaccine?

Speaker 2: (01:13:35)
First minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:13:36)
We’ve been very clear about that, the chief medical officer is clear about that, I’ve been clear about that. Today, it will be the policy, unless the scientific advisor at a later stage is clear that something different can be done, the policy will be that people get two doses from the same vaccine, unless there are very exceptional circumstances where there wasn’t a record of the first vaccine they got, but that should not happen. So that’s clear nationally, and that is clear for all health boards. The precise time scales weren’t set out because we are not yet able to do that for the reasons that I have set out. As this information becomes firmer and clearer, we will set that out. I set out as much as I can today, and that hopefully becomes clearer almost on a daily basis at the moment. I will consider the frequency of publication, but I really want to strike a balance here. This is a massive logistical exercise for the whole health system, and yes we will consider retired healthcare workers, anybody that can reasonably help us do this as quickly as possible. And therefore, we have to make judgments.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:14:36)
Does daily publication of figures, does the extra burden that create, is that justified by the value of that information? If the answer to that is yes, we will do that, but if the judgment is actually weekly, gives us the information we need, and therefore we don’t need to put that burden on the system, that’s the judgment we will arrive at. We are trying to support a very under pressure health system through a global pandemic, and these are the difficult judgments we will continue to make, and we will keep parliament updated on the-

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:15:03)
What judgments we will continue to make, and we will keep Parliament updated on the detail of this as we go along.

Presiding Officere: (01:15:06)
John Mason to be followed by Ross Greer.

John Mason: (01:15:09)
Thank you. Mental health is obviously extremely important to people, and perhaps especially for people living on their own, of which I have to say I am one. I mean, some people enjoy being on their own, but other people find it a struggle. And in particular, going to a place of worship can also be quite important for single people in that situation. Can the First Minister say anything to them?

Presiding Officere: (01:15:30)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:15:30)
I can say I am desperately sorry we are in this position. Nobody wants to be in this position, but this new variant of the virus it has created, yet again, a very challenging situation. And it’s in everybody’s interest. And it’s essential if we are to stop this overwhelming us in all sorts of ways, that we limit human interaction as much as possible, and that’s the cruelest thing about this virus. The way we stop it spreading is to stop doing all the things that are so valuable to us as human beings, and there is no easy way to say that. There is no way of sugarcoating that. That’s why we’ve always tried to create provisions in the rules, such as outdoor interaction, which even now, you can meet somebody from another household to try to deal with that social isolation as much as possible.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:16:21)
I really understand the importance of worship for people, and the restrictions I’ve announced today will not be in place for a moment longer than necessary. I don’t expect anybody to have anything other than dismay at these restrictions today, but I would ask people to understand that we would not be doing this if we didn’t think it absolutely necessary. I understand the Prime Minister is due to speak at eight o’clock this evening, and I can’t obviously predict what he’s going to say, but I suspect it will not be dissimilar here because every part of the UK is facing a really perilous position right now.

Presiding Officere: (01:16:53)
Ross Greer to be followed by Alex Cole-Hamilton.

Ross Greer: (01:16:57)
Thank you. The winter eviction ban pushed for by Living Rent, the Greens, and many others will expire on the 22nd of January. Evictions during a lockdown and the worst surge yet of the virus would be grossly unjust but also downright dangerous. Will the Scottish government extended evictions ban until the end of the formal scheme in April?

Presiding Officere: (01:17:17)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:17:18)
I know that is under consideration right now. I don’t want to preempt the final decision that I’m sure the minister has orders in the process of taking and will set out in due course, but can I just say, and hopefully, this will give a signal of the direction of travel that I agree with the sentiments expressed in the question.

Presiding Officere: (01:17:34)
Thank you. Alex Cole-Hamilton to be followed by Christine Grahame.

Alex Cole-Hamilton: (01:17:37)
Thank you very much, presiding officer. I’m going to start by declaring an interest in that I am married to a primary school teacher. It is welcome news that the government is currently in discussions with the JCVI about reprioritizing teachers and childcare workforce for the vaccine. But that is only half the equation if we were to safely reopen schools. And as such, I would ask, considering the Pfizer vaccine is safe for 16 and 17-year, those students who are currently missing out on key face-to-face teaching in advance of that vital qualifying assessment work that they’ll need to do for the end of term. Would you also consider including those in the JCVI’s recommendations?

Presiding Officere: (01:18:16)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:18:17)
Well, it’s not for me to decide what’s in the JCVI recommendations because I’m not a member of the JCVI. They are an independent group of experts. Can I just be very clear? I did not say that we were in discussion with the JCVI about changing their priority list. And it’s really important people understand what I did say rather than perhaps what they might have heard or thought they heard me say. I did not say that. What I said is that we are considering internally in government, and we will have discussions with those within the teaching workforce as well without compromising the JCVI prioritization less, which is there for very good reason. We can still look to accelerate the vaccination of teachers and other school and early years staff. These are not easy judgments to arrive at practically or in principle, but that’s what we intend to seek to do. And let me also be very clear that within the JCVI prioritization, that list includes everybody over the age of 50 and those under 50 with underlying health conditions. Many teachers will be in those groups, but for those that are not, we want to look at how, without compromising the clinical prioritization, we can accelerate the vaccination of them.

Presiding Officere: (01:19:32)
Thank you. Christine Grahame to be followed before by Jamie Halcro Johnston.

Christine Grahame: (01:19:35)
Thank you, presiding officer. I think we all accept that borders residents may have to cross border for essential purposes. And of course, the same will be true say of residents from Berwick traveling to Scotland. But does this [inaudible 01:19:49] have any information as to whether these rules are being breached in any way, particularly important as Scotland moves from midnight, as we’ve announced, into higher restrictions than south of the border?

Presiding Officere: (01:20:03)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:20:04)
I genuinely don’t know what difference there will be later this week between restrictions north and south of the border. The First Minister is just indicating to me that as well as the Prime Minister speaking at eight o’clock this evening. Westminster at the House of Commons has been recalled on Wednesday, so it may be that actually any differences are less real than the may appear to be at the moment. But it is really important that there is an understanding of the rules that apply in whatever parts of the country and that we encourage maximum compliance with these rules. I know there is a real sense of fatigue about this. All of us, genuinely, all of us feel it, but right at this moment, it is more important than it’s been at any time since last spring that we abide by all of these restrictions because lives literally are depending on it.

Presiding Officere: (01:20:50)
Jamie Halcro Johnston to be followed by Anas Sarwar.

Jamie Halcro Johnston: (01:20:53)
Thank you. It’s welcome news that parts of my Highlands and Islands region that are currently in level three will remain so, but that also means businesses in the areas, particularly some in the tourism sector, will be legally but not practicably able to remain open and will therefore be denied the access to the full range of business support available. Does the First Minister accept that this is unfair, threatens jobs and livelihoods, and will she ensure that those businesses in level three, practicably unable to open, are able to access the full level of financial support offered to businesses in other parts of the country?

Presiding Officere: (01:21:25)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:21:25)
Well, there is already support for businesses that are not legally required to close but who’s treating as restricted or impaired because of the situation. In addition to that, there is a local authority discretionary funding. But if there are particular cases, as will be the case in any aspect of this, where we think there our categories falling through the cracks of the support schemes, we will always be prepared to look at that and see what more can be done.

Presiding Officere: (01:21:50)
Anas Sarwar to be followed by Stuart McMillan.

Anas Sarwar: (01:21:52)
I don’t like the measures announced by the First Ministers today, but can I unequivocally say that I understand it and support them. It is clear that the vaccine is now the way out of this crisis for us as a country, but 10 months on, we still have issues with the mass testing regime, which doesn’t really inspire confidence in and our mass vaccination program. I spoke to Glasgow home carers this morning and the representatives of the GMB union, and they tell me that sadly the rhetoric does not meet the reality and that they’ve been forced to ballot their members with 93% saying that they are considering strike action in the city. These home carers aren’t making this decision lightly. They care about their own health, their family’s health, and the health of those that they care for. So can we please, please have an urgent intervention from the First Minister herself to start testing for home carers in Glasgow and across the country and help us inspire confidence in our vaccine program, too.

Presiding Officere: (01:22:51)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:22:52)
I firstly want to pay tribute to the contribution that home care workers make. It is very difficult to properly convey our appreciation to them for everything they do. And I know that any decisions they take around industrial action would absolutely not be taken lightly, and I hope that we will be in a position where they don’t feel that is necessary. It is not about an intervention from me. We have already set out the plans for the testing of home care workers, which get underway this month. I know, and I include myself in this, we all want these things to happen more quickly and to go faster. There have been limitations in terms of the availability of technology, the use of lateral flow technology. We are making great progress in that, and these plans will accelerate. I’m happy to ask the health secretary to set out afresh the detail of exactly the rollout clients for home care worker testing later this week.

Presiding Officere: (01:23:46)
Stuart McMillan to be followed by Mark McDonald.

Stuart McMillan: (01:23:48)
Thank you, presiding officer. While the vast majority of businesses, like the rest of the population, are complying fully with all that’s asked of them, there are some that will always seek to find a loophole to justify why they should or could stay open. How can we encourage everyone to behave responsibly? And what more can we do to close such loopholes?

Presiding Officere: (01:24:08)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:24:10)
Because we have done all along to cause genuine loopholes, but we come to a fundamental point here. And I think the vast majority of individuals and businesses have behaved responsibly, not because government has told them to, but because everybody recognizes the vital importance of everything that people have been asked to do. It is about protecting health and saving lives, and making sure our NHS can continue to care for everybody who needs it. It’s vitally important for the safety and security of all of us. But this is a moment, and I see this very clearly, and I want to stress this is to recapture the sense and the spirit we had back in March last year, when I think everybody wanted to operate, not within the letter of the rules, but within the spirit. And that’s what we need to get back, not instead of looking for loopholes… and I understand why people want to get as much normality as possible, but the attitude we all need to have right now is what is the maximum we can do to limit the spread of this virus. The more we do that, the more chance we give the vaccine to get ahead more quickly and now much more than in March, the better the real prospect there is of us getting genuine normality back later this year.

Presiding Officere: (01:25:23)
Mark McDonald to be followed by Bruce Crawford.

Mark McDonald: (01:25:28)
Thank you, presiding officer. While I’m entirely supportive of the measures the First Minister has outlined, having undertaken homeschooling during the last lockdown and being a parent of a child with additional support needs, I’m acutely aware of the difficulties that many families will face where one or more child has a disability or additional support need in delivering home learning able to do that for all children on an equitable basis. I would tightly hold the definitions of vulnerability that the First Minister has alluded to be drawn and what steps will be taken to give appropriate support to families with children with additional support needs and disabilities to ensure that they can provide equitable home learning for all of the children in their home school?

Presiding Officere: (01:26:10)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:26:11)
The responsibility on the part of local authorities and schools, and indeed the government, is to meet the needs of every child. Now, we are requiring to do this right now in very difficult and unique circumstances, but that responsibility continues to be there. There is flexibility on the part of councils around the definitions of vulnerable, and also key workers, children, and that helps them ensure that that can be done. And within the support that has been made available to schools and then from schools to families, the particular needs of children with additional learning needs and children with disabilities is incredibly important. And I know that schools and local authorities are very cognizant of that.

Presiding Officere: (01:26:50)
Bruce Crawford to be followed by Liz Smith.

Bruce Crawford: (01:26:59)
Thank you, presiding officer. First Minister, while we may yet face some of the darkest days of the pandemic, do you agree that it’s even more vital that people are given hope and greater certainty that brighter times lie ahead? We knew that our amazing NHS staff will step up and perform when the vaccines are delivered to them, but I believe it would greatly help people to get more medium to longer-term certainty from the vaccine manufacturers about production volumes, as well as [time 01:27:23] skills for delivery to the NHS [inaudible 01:27:26]. Can I, therefore, ask what more the Scottish government could do and discussion with it you’d take, and of course that vaccine companies to provide that greater certainty for the medium to long term?

Presiding Officere: (01:27:39)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:27:40)
Firstly, I do think it’s really important to give hope, and it feels today very difficult to be standing here talking about hope. But if I can use my face analogy again, back in March, the virus was in a race of its own. There was only one lane, and it was the virus and we were all just desperately trying to slow it down and bring it under control. This time, although it feels very dark and difficult today, we have this other lane with the vaccine in it that can, we hope, and we expect, win the race over the next few months. So that does give hope that these sacrifices this time are absolutely paving the way for brighter, better, and much more normal times ahead.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:28:18)
In terms of procurement, we obviously continue to do procurement on a full nations basis through the UK vaccines task force. Just to be clear, that is not as some have used the language of the UK buying vaccines for us. That’s about all four nations pooling our resources and our efforts to make sure that we get to the best position there. These are new vaccines. COVID vaccines have been authorized for supply for just a matter of weeks, and we’re working with [inaudible 00:01:28:46], the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England, to establish a reliable supply schedule for boards to support their programming of vaccination. And I’ve set out what our expectations of supply are. The health secretary and I, before Christmas, had discussions with Pfizer about their supply expectations, and we intend to have the same discussions or seek to have the same discussions with AstraZeneca over the next period.

Presiding Officere: (01:29:12)
Thank you. Liz Smith to be followed by Alex Rowley.

Liz Smith: (01:29:14)
Can the First Minister answer a question I was asked by a vulnerable constituent this morning who has just moved from north of England to Kinross and not yet being able to register with a GP and told that may be some weeks yet. Does he require to have that registration before he can obtain a vaccination?

Presiding Officere: (01:29:37)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:29:37)
Instead of seeking to give an answer to that very specific and very important question here, I’m going to go away and make sure I double-check and get the answer right, and I’ll get the answer to Liz Smith for communications to her constituent as soon as possible. And then we’ll make that information available for the purposes of anybody else who might be in the similar position.

Presiding Officere: (01:29:56)
Thank you. Alex Rowley to be followed by John Scott.

Alex Rowley: (01:29:58)
Yes. Thank you, presiding officer. I think that most people in the country will understand and will be supportive of the measures the First Minister has announced today as public health has to come first. But can I ask what work is going on by the government to develop an exit strategy based on what we’ve already learned. It’s difficult to see where the transmission is most prevalent. Is it in businesses? Is it in cars? Is it in schools? And so in order to form an exit strategy that starts to look at how we get our schools and our economy going again, will the government bring forward that type of information and start to set out what the plan is as we move towards the spring and the summer to get our country up and running again?

Presiding Officere: (01:30:51)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:30:52)
The exit strategy now is the vaccine, and the vaccine is a very definite exit strategy that we haven’t had before. And that is why the quicker we can get people vaccinated, the more we can get back to normal. If the restrictions that we are living under right now help us as we hope they will to suppress spread, then even as we are vaccinating, we would hope to be able to lift some of these restrictions. But unlike in March, the vaccine gives us a definite exit strategy that we lacked back then.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:31:20)
In terms of where the virus spreads, I know… and I include myself in this. I think over the past 10 months, we’ve all been desperate to think that there’s some very complicated answers that if we just crack them, then we’ll have the solution to this. The science at the heart of this is, as I’ve come to realize is actually not that complicated. This virus spreads when individuals come together, and it hops from one person to another and then goes from one household to another. So whether it’s in cars, bars, whether it’s in workplaces, whether it’s in our own homes, the way to stop it spreading… Unfortunately, this is the hard and cruel part of this is to stop the interaction between us and keep essential interactions on a safe basis as possible. And that basically is the science and the epidemiology at the heart of this. And that’s what drives the restrictions that, unfortunately, we’re having to put in place. John Scott,

Presiding Officere: (01:32:11)
John Scott to be followed by Rhoda Grant.

John Scott: (01:32:13)
Thank you, presiding officer. First Minister knows of my concerns that I’ve repeatedly raised with her about the threat to bed capacity in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, with particular regard to ICU capacity as the pandemic progresses. If NHS Ayrshire and Arran are now at 96% of bed capacity, what further information and reassurances can the First Minister give to the people of Ayrshire that plans are in place to deal with the expected increase in demand for bed space that does not currently now exist in Ayrshire?

Presiding Officere: (01:32:47)
First minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:32:48)
Can I say the 96% initial add is hospital bed capacity. That’s not ICU capacity. Generally, this will vary across different health boards, but generally, ICU… would be wrong to say it’s not under pressure, but it is nowhere near the peak in April. And that’s largely because fewer people going into hospital are now requiring intensive care because treatment options have got better. But hospital capacity is more of a concern, and that is particularly true in Ayrshire and Arran, Glasgow, the Borders, and Lanarkshire. And that comes back to the need to make sure that we are not adding to that pressure. And the 96% is of COVID capacity. And that’s really why we need to take these steps right now to make sure that we are not overwhelming that capacity. And that is one of the reasons we decided to act so quickly and decisively. Like everybody, particularly in Ayrshire and Arran, it’s the health board many of my family are dependent on. My sister works in NHS Ayrshire and Arran, and I know the particular pressures there, but they are replicated in boards across the country, which is why sticking to these restrictions is the best thing all of us can do to help meet those pressures and make sure they don’t get exacerbated.

Presiding Officere: (01:33:57)
Thank you. Rhoda Grant to be followed by Miles Briggs.

Rhoda Grant: (01:34:03)
Thank you, presiding officer. I have raised with the Scottish government previously the issue of home testing in the Highlands and Islands where quite often people did not have access to home testing. I received a letter saying that more priority mailboxes have been set up along with couriers to make sure that this now happened. But I have heard today of a case in Skye, at least one case where the courier did not return to pick up the home test, and the person undertaking the test was then forced use a normal mailbox to return it, and as far as I know, has not received results for this test. This again calls into question the testing regime and poor access people have in remote brutal Scotland. Can I ask the First Minister what she will do to ensure that everyone has equitable access to testing?

Presiding Officere: (01:34:57)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:34:58)
Well, I think it’s important that we take up and address individual cases like that one. And if Rhoda Grant wants to write to the health secretary or email this afternoon, we will look into that particular case. Obviously, we cannot be there with every courier service, and therefore there will inevitably be things like that that happen, but we’ll address those. Those individual cases, though while important, do not necessarily indicate a whole system that is flawed. The home testing system is run through the UK [inaudible 01:35:26] system, and we will continue to take up any issues there with the UK government and work with them to resolve them. We have also been expanding the network of walk-in centers, and we’ll continue to do that, but anybody, whether it’s about testing or any other aspect of this, if there are individual issues constituents are experiencing, please let us know these so that we can address them and also check whether they are indicative of a wider system problem or just isolated cases.

Presiding Officere: (01:35:52)
Miles Briggs to be followed by Neil Findlay.

Miles Briggs: (01:35:54)
Thank you, presiding officer. Unlike the first lockdown in March, this lockdown will be taking place over winter months. Can I ask the First Minister, what additional guidance will be given to local authorities for the proper gritting of all local roads, given what we’ve seen in Edinburgh today, where roads haven’t been gritted, and the concern that’s has for people to be able to exercise, but also additional pressure from grazes and falls of older people?

Presiding Officere: (01:36:17)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:36:19)
Gritting is obviously a responsibility of local authorities. I’m not trying to shrug off the question, but it is for them to make sure they are undertaking those responsibilities, and that applies to Edinburgh and all local authorities and will make sure that the issue that has been raised here is drawn to the attention of Edinburgh Council. Clearly, one of the different aspects of what we face now is the concurrent risks that we face. Now we’ve had that with the ending of the Brexit transition period. Weather is another one of the concurrent risks, and that is very much that the integrated nature of our planning, it seeks to address all of those. But of course we rely on our partners, and they are part of a resilience framework to make sure that they are taking seriously those responsibilities as I know all councils do.

Presiding Officere: (01:37:04)
And Neil Findlay.

Neil Findlay: (01:37:08)
On June 1st, the lockdown, MSPs were inundated with workers who were concerned about being told to come to work. Will the government immediately establish an employee health lien for all workers unionized or not so they can get free impartial advice on the rates and the health and safety at work? And also, in the first lockdown, those who are shooting received free food and essential items from the government. Will this happen again?

Presiding Officere: (01:37:35)
First Minister.

Nicola Sturgeon: (01:37:35)
Yes, we will be making sure that there is provision of support for people in the shooting category who need it in terms of food or other supplies. We did have an arrangement, a hub tape arrangement, that helped us to resolve issues around workers and employees in the first part of the pandemic. I will certainly take away the need for us to revitalize and reestablish that because it’s important that we do help workers navigate through these issues. And I will make sure that once we’ve worked out how exactly that will happen this time, we get that information to all MSPs as quickly as possible.

Presiding Officere: (01:38:08)
Thank you very much. And that concludes our statement. There’s no further business this afternoon. So can I thank colleagues for their participation in this recall session? I close this meeting. (silence)