‘Why has it taken so long!’ Sturgeon’s Covid failures exposed as vaccine chaos erupts

Nicola Sturgeon questioned on policy on key workers

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Nicola Sturgeon has urged people across Scotland to limit their socialising to three households before and after Christmas to help combat the “exponential” rise of the Omicron coronavirus variant. Scotland’s First Minister said she is not asking people to “cancel” Christmas and is not proposing limits on the size of household gatherings on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, or Christmas Eve but that “keeping your celebrations as small as family circumstances allow is sensible”. Following this announcement, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross criticised the Scottish Government’s previous reluctance to relaunch mass vaccination centres.

He said: “Week after week, my party has come to this chamber and ask the First Minister to prepare to bring in mass vaccination centres.

“But only now, only today, has that been accepted.

“The Scottish Government have delayed and now they’re scrambling to find venues at the last minute.

“Why has it taken so long for the Government to accept our calls and agree to launch mass vaccination centres, that were so crucial and successful in the original rollout of the vaccine.”

Mr Ross also argued the new self-isolation guidance for close contacts to quarantine for 10 days regardless of whether they test negative was unsustainable.

He added: “We agree with the need for caution but at the level of cases that the government is expecting by next week, this rule change could mean tens of thousands of Scots put into self-isolation every single day.

“We don’t believe this policy is sustainable – it will have knock-on consequences, it could impact our transport services, police, schools, workplaces across the country, even our vaccination programme.”

Professor Chris Whitty has warned ministers to brace for a “significant increase in hospitalisations” from Omicron, as Downing Street insisted no further coronavirus restrictions are being planned.

England’s chief medical officer also told a virtual Cabinet meeting on Tuesday that it is “too early to say how severe” the strain is after early suggestions from South Africa that it could be relatively mild.

Boris Johnson also warned his ministers that he believes a “huge spike” of cases of the variant will hit the nation, as he pressures Tory rebels to back his new Plan B restrictions during a Commons vote.

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Downing Street did not reject a suggestion that new Omicron cases could hit a million per day next week based on a “valid” estimate from the UK Health Security Agency that daily infections are currently around 200,000.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab insisted Plan B restrictions including mandatory mask=wearing and the use of Covid health certificates for large venues will be sufficient over Christmas, meaning families can “spend it with loved ones”.

And the downbeat assessment from Prof Whitty delivered to the first Cabinet meeting not to take place in person for months will raise concerns that additional measures may be needed in England in the new year.

He told ministers he can not yet determine whether cases are plateauing in South Africa, where the strain was first identified, and said there is “no reliable evidence” from the nation’s scientists of a peak in case rates.

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“He added that it remained too early to say how severe the Omicron variant was but that we can expect a significant increase in hospitalisations as cases increase,” according to No 10’s account of the meeting.

Earlier, South African Medical Association chairwoman Dr Angelique Coetzee told MPs on the Science and Technology Committee that most cases of Omicron have been mild.

Downing Street gave its backing to the UK Health Security Agency estimate that there could already be around 200,000 cases of the rapidly-spreading strain in circulation.

“We think it is a valid figure which is recognising it is an estimate and models have wide ranges,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

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