Sarwar seeks clarification on future imposition of Covid restrictions

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Scotland should have clear “triggers” to reimpose restrictions if they are needed, with agreed support for people and businesses and better contact tracing, said Anas Sarwar.

The leader of the Scottish Labor Party has outlined his party’s plan to ‘live with Covid’ as restrictions introduced to tackle Omicron are eased.

He criticized the Scottish Government for its ‘ad hoc decision-making’ while predicting there would be no more full national lockdowns.

But Sarwar argued that, if other variants emerge, there should be an agreed system across the UK where certain levels of hospitalization, infection rates, number of deaths or health worker absences are used to impose restrictions ‘do not become political football’.

He lamented communication between government and business as “dismal and often non-existent” during the pandemic, while Scottish Labor deputy leader Jackie Baillie said the NHS, the social care sector and the research system contacts needed “surge capacity” if new variants cause more spikes in infections.

Speaking at a meeting with hospitality representatives, Sarwar said, “The reality is that we are almost two years into the pandemic and in that time we have not built the resilience of the system we should have built – in terms of business support, resilience in terms of what happens in our schools, resilience in terms of what happens in our NHS.

“There comes a time when an ad hoc decision-making process is no longer fit for purpose.”

He suggested that the ongoing restrictions and the way they are being introduced in the short term were having a “detrimental impact” on people’s health, mental wellbeing and businesses.

“It is time for the Scottish Government and the UK Government, in partnership, to set out a clear framework and clear trigger points on the levels at which they should consider restrictions, if they are considering restrictions at all.

“And, if they introduce a level of restrictions, which people can expect them to be, and then what that means for businesses at all levels, what level of business support is going to come in to protect their business, and what what level of economic support is going to go into supporting the self-employed individual.

“Because right now, ad hoc decision-making isn’t working for anyone.”

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Stephen Montgomery, spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG), said Public Health Scotland’s decision ordering the cancellation of Christmas parties and advising people to avoid crowded spaces, had “crippled the industry”.

Describing the decision as “probably the most difficult of the restrictions we have faced”, Montgomery said the restrictions would have cost the Scottish hotel sector over £1billion and he now expects it to take between three and five years before the industry fully recovers.

Mario Gizzi, owner of the DiMaggio’s restaurant group and member of SHG, argued there was ‘utter confusion’ across the country about the rules currently in place.

“We can’t, every time something happens, press a panic button and go into shutdown mode – we have to learn to live with it, deal with it and if there’s compensation needed then someone has to help.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson replied: ‘We will shortly publish an updated policy framework, which will set out how we can adapt to life with Covid in a way that allows all of us to live as freely as possible, while controlling the damage it can cause.

“As we have seen with Omicron, the situation with the pandemic remains extremely fluid and, in these exceptional circumstances, the government has continued to act urgently to protect public health.

“We will continue to report to Parliament every two months on the use of powers in the coronavirus legislation, and remain committed to expiring or suspending any provisions that are no longer needed.”

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