Nicola Sturgeon says there is no “immediate concern” over medicine or food supplies in the run up to Christmas after more than 40 nations banned arrivals from the UK over coronavirus fears.
The first minister said there is still a chance to control the spread of a new Covid-19 variant in Scotland, despite UK health secretary Matt Hancock stating the more infectious strain is already “out of control” in the UK.
Flights from the UK have been suspended to countries across the world and France led the way for the rest of the EU to shut its borders, leaving huge queues and travel chaos as no lorries or ferries were able to depart from the port of Dover.
Ms Sturgeon was scheduled to take part in talks involving her own officials and leaders from across the UK on Monday to discuss the travel ban’s “significant implications for businesses in Scotland”.
Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, she said there is “no risk” to supplies of the Covid-19 vaccine and no “immediate concern” over medicine supplies because stocks were already built up ahead of Brexit.
Ms Sturgeon urged people not to stockpile food and risk a return to the scenes of empty shelves seen earlier in the pandemic, saying: “We have been assured by supermarkets that they are well stocked for Christmas.”
Joining the First Minister today is Scotland’s Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith and Chief Constable Iain Livingstone. https://t.co/XonWPDp4bO
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) December 21, 2020
The first minister has called for the activation of no-deal Brexit plans to tackle port disruption and backed the Scottish food sector’s request for the UK Government to take action to enable exports to continue.
Her own request for the Brexit transition period to be extended was rejected by Downing Street as it prepares to push on to December 31 with or without a trade deal.
Ms Sturgeon said coronavirus cases in Scotland had been “volatile” over recent days and are now thought to be rising after weeks of decline.
Analysis of the new variant indicates it could be up to 70% more transmissible and possibly accounts for 40% to 60% of new cases in London and the south-east of England. Ms Sturgeon said the risk of it spreading rapidly in Scotland is “very real”.
“That’s what we’ve got to stop here in Scotland, and that’s the reason for the actions that I announced on Saturday,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon confirmed there had been 1,504 new positive coronavirus tests recorded in Scotland and said even though a processing backlog was thought to be partially responsible for the “significantly higher” figure, cases are still rising.
“If we do nothing now, we are likely to see more new infections in Scotland as a result of this variant – placing an even greater strain on our health service, and leading to more deaths,” she said.
“But as things stand, with our lower prevalence in a relative sense, we still have a chance of keeping this situation under control while the vaccination programme continues – and while we get case numbers back to very low levels again.”
Ms Sturgeon urged people not to meet members of others households indoors on Christmas Day, despite the tightened restrictions announced on Saturday allowing three households to a maximum of eight people aged 12 and over to do so for that day only, instead of the five days previously outlined.
She said the decisions announced on Saturday to restrict the meeting period over Christmas, to bring in a cross-border travel ban and place all of mainland Scotland in the highest level of restrictions from Boxing Day were “horrible”.
The SNP leader added: “I know the consequences of not acting now to stop this virus could be catastrophic, so I am genuinely sorry to have to do these things. But believe me when I say they are necessary.”
Chief constable Iain Livingstone told the briefing that police officers may investigate why people are travelling over the festive season if their journey is suspected of breaching Covid-19 rules.
Travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK is currently prohibited in law for all but “essential” reasons and Mr Livingstone said his officers will carry out “some investigation” where they suspect a “flagrant breach” of the restrictions.
He confirmed “high visibility” will be present across Scotland but officers will not be setting up check points, adding that it would be “excessive and disproportionate” to ask people to carry identification papers.
Mr Livingstone added: “The key thing is not to think ‘I might get away with it, or not’ – people should do the right thing, and think how they can make a contribution to stopping this virus spreading.”