Spot Checks on International Arrivals

– in the Scottish Parliament on 20th August 2020.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

4. Two months ago, the justice secretary told a committee of this Parliament that 20 per cent of arrivals from abroad who were required to quarantine were being spot checked. The actual number was zero. Yesterday, an official Government document showed that the figure was still only 7 per cent, but the health secretary told the chamber that she thought that it was 20 per cent. Does anyone in the Scottish Government have a grasp of those numbers? Do ministers think that it is important to carry out spot checks or not?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Yes, we both have a grasp of the numbers and think that it is important to carry out spot checks.

I believe that some of the information that I am about to give has already been given to Parliament. However, if it has not, I stand to be corrected.

We committed to Public Health Scotland making contact with around 20 per cent of travellers, up to a maximum of 450 per week, which at that time was considered to be a robust sample size given the number of flights affected. We are currently exceeding that figure, with around 600 contacts per week. However, as the number of flights increases, the figure of 450—or even a figure above that—will become less than 20 per cent. Therefore, we are looking at how we will adjust that. In fact, data for last week shows that we contacted just over 1,000 travellers.

As more countries have quarantine restrictions imposed—there will be discussions later today and into tomorrow with the other United Kingdom nations, and it might be that other countries are added to that list—we will be required to take decisions to increase that capacity further.

To put that in context, we understand that Public Health England takes a random sample of 600 individuals from travellers who enter England each week. Therefore, there is some consistency in the number of contacts that are being made by Public Health Scotland and Public Health England.

Those are the figures. We will continue to ensure that we are committing the resources to make them proportionate to the numbers of people that are coming in. That will change as the countries that are in and out of the quarantine restrictions change as well.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

The Government’s promise is to do spot checks on 20 per cent, and after two months that figure is still not being delivered. In fact, the document that was published yesterday talked about reducing the numbers, not increasing them.

I am sorry to say that, with the Spanish quarantine and spot-check problems, I have little confidence that the Government is on top of this. If the First Minister focused a little bit more on the international border than the English border, we might be in a better position.

Three weeks ago, I asked the First Minister whether she would test all international students on arrival to keep them safe, and she said that she was thinking about it. Last week, she said that she was still thinking. This morning, the health secretary said that she was looking at it. However, students are arriving right now. How much more thinking and looking time does the First Minister need? From spot checks to testing, why is the First Minister risking the spread of the virus?

The First Minister:

If Willie Rennie paid attention to the decisions that we are making, he would know that his comment about borders was completely and utterly ridiculous, and, actually, I think that it was beneath him.

I am not particularly interested in borders or where they are; I am interested in keeping Scotland as safe as I can from an infectious virus, and I will take whatever decisions are necessary to achieve that.

Willie Rennie has not been entirely accurate about what ministers have said. For example, Humza Yousaf stated that the aim was to contact 20 per cent—up to 450 people per week—which is being exceeded; it is around 650 contacts a week and last week was 1,000 travellers. We will increase that as the number of countries in quarantine restrictions increases, which may happen over the next 24 or 48 hours.

With regard to his second point, I apologise to the health secretary that I was not able to listen to all her evidence this morning, but I happened to catch in passing her comment about universities. She did not say that we were thinking about it; she said that we were in active consultation with universities about the finalisation of the proposals. It is important that, given the scale of incoming student numbers and the risks that we know that will pose, we get those measures right. That is what we are seeking to do. We will continue to look at testing, the quarantine arrangements that are in place and face coverings. Across a range of those things, we—as the Government, as is our responsibility—will continue to take the tough decisions, whatever they may be, while others can simply criticise from elsewhere.