Covid-19 Restrictions (Aberdeen)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 11 August 2020.

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Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Independent

1. To ask the Scottish Government what conditions it expects to be met to enable the easing of local restrictions in Aberdeen. (S5T-02300)

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

We will review the current situation tomorrow, at the end of the initial seven-day period, to consider whether the restrictions remain necessary. Our decisions will be informed by the advice of the Grampian incident management team, local clinical advice and our own Scottish Government clinical advice. The evidence and data available to us as we take those decisions covers the number of cases, the rate of increase or decrease in numbers of people infected, changes or not in age range, and the situation in neighbouring geographies. Case numbers today, as the member may know, are beginning to show that the situation appears to be decelerating but has not yet stopped.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Independent

I am sure that the cabinet secretary will appreciate that these are very worrying times for my constituents and for other residents in the city of Aberdeen, many of whom hope that good news will be round the corner but recognise nonetheless that the risk remains.

The Scottish Government guidance on the matter covers many issues, but one issue that was not covered and that remains ambiguous is about individuals who live in Aberdeen city—maybe grandparents—who are caring for children on behalf of parents who live in Aberdeenshire, or vice versa, to enable those individuals to work or to return to work.

Will the cabinet secretary give guidance in relation to those arrangements and say whether they are okay to continue under the current restrictions? If she cannot answer that now, will she assure me that the Scottish Government will publish that advice as soon as possible?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

I am grateful to Mark McDonald for that important supplementary question. Rather than attempt to answer in detail now, I undertake to provide Mr McDonald with an answer today on the current situation. Dependent on the decision that is taken tomorrow at the seven-day review, that situation will either continue for another period or be ended, but we will provide an answer to him today.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Independent

I fully appreciate that it is better that we get a detailed response that gives reassurance to parents rather than an answer in the chamber that might not reflect the full detail that is required.

Another issue that has come up this week in my constituency mailbag—and, I suspect, other members’ mailbags—is about the reopening of schools. I appreciate that there will be a statement tomorrow from the Scottish Government on the wider context of school reopening, but many parents in Aberdeen have concerns about the reopening of schools while the current local restrictions are in place. Yesterday evening, I had a helpful meeting with my son’s school at which the headteacher was able to allay and address some of those concerns, but that will not be the case for all parents.

What steps will the cabinet secretary take to provide reassurance to parents about the robustness of the data that the Scottish Government is using to facilitate the reopening of schools, and to reassure parents in Aberdeen that their children and families are safe as the return to schools takes place this week?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

As Mark McDonald and other members know, one of our driving motivations in making the difficult decision to impose additional restrictions on the citizens of Aberdeen was to ensure that we could continue towards its being safe for schools there to reopen, along with schools elsewhere in the country. That is because of the importance of young people getting back to learning.

In Aberdeen, the incident management team, which involves the local authority, has access to detailed data. I expect the local authority, through its director of education and others, to ensure that local schools are aware of the data that the incident management team is looking at and to pick up any specific issues. My colleague the Deputy First Minister is dealing with those, with particular regard to Aberdeen. Nonetheless, if Mark McDonald or any other member from the city wants a specific answer on particular issues, I ask them to let me know what those are. We will be very content to give them an early answer to any specific questions that they receive from their constituents.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

[

Inaudible

.]—businesses in Aberdeen did their absolute utmost to keep staff and customers safe, but have had to close in the meantime in order to protect wider public health. Will the cabinet secretary join me in supporting the petition that was launched today by Khalis Miah of the Riksha restaurant, calling for the eat out to help out scheme to be rescheduled in Aberdeen to start after local restrictions have been lifted?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

Mr Macdonald is absolutely correct, in as much as very many businesses in Aberdeen city and elsewhere across Scotland have taken great steps and gone to great pains to ensure that their premises are as safe as possible and that they comply with the guidance that we have issued for the reopening of the hospitality industry. Nonetheless, I recognise that there are impacts on businesses in the city, because of the decisions that have been taken and the restrictions that have been imposed.

There has been additional financial support for Aberdeen, as there has been for other areas in Scotland. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture is speaking with local business organisations in the city to see whether more can be done. I am happy to ensure that she is aware of that petition and can take a view on how she might want to proceed.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I will select Tom Mason, if he is there remotely.

Photo of Tom Mason Tom Mason Conservative

I am here. Can you hear me?

Photo of Tom Mason Tom Mason Conservative

Contact tracing is essential if we are to get back to any normality. However, at the beginning of the outbreak, an Aberdeen bar had to proactively get in touch with contact tracers because nobody from the national health service had contacted it. Establishments were then given an apology after they were added to the list of premises linked to the outbreak without being told. That is on top of the reports that only an additional eight contact tracers were sent to the area.

How many contact tracers are working on the outbreak and, of that number, how many were sent after the outbreak started?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

NHS Grampian has 97 trained contact tracers in the local area who are available to be used. Over a short period, the number of cases in Grampian has grown to 253, 165 of which are associated with the cluster, and 875 contacts have been traced. In addition, more have been worked on between the reporting period yesterday and today, linked to the 27 cases in Grampian that I announced earlier. We see from that information that the contact tracing operation is working effectively.

NHS Grampian has received additional support in the form of 16 people from the national contact tracing centre to assist it and so that work can continue over the weekend, when contact tracers who have been working on the outbreak considerably and with great effect need to take some time off.

The case numbers and complexity of the cluster are particularly challenging and have been growing. At this point, we have sufficient contact tracers in Grampian, and I check that every day. We have that additional support and we are making sure that we have sufficient contact tracers for cases elsewhere in the country, particularly for the investigative work that is under way on the 13 cases that have been reported for the greater Glasgow and Clyde area.

The Presiding Officer:

I hope that Maureen Watt can also join us remotely.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

Will the Scottish Government consider extra support beyond the job retention scheme for businesses in Aberdeen that are impacted by the closure?

Photo of Jeane Freeman Jeane Freeman Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government has already provided an estimated £62 million to the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors in Aberdeen city as part of Covid relief, and £20 million was provided on 4 August for small business support grants. However, as I said, the economy secretary, Ms Hyslop, has been in contact with local business organisations and is engaging with local partners to make sure that we understand what additional impacts may have been brought about by the imposition of the additional restrictions and to discuss whether we could do more to support the affected businesses.