Quarantine (International Travel)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th September 2020.

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Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Although the priority remains minimising infection and saving lives, can post-travel quarantine be done differently? If there is a viral spike in one part of an overseas country, is it necessary to impose a blanket quarantine on all travellers from that country? Quarantining folk from Mallorca because of an outbreak in Madrid makes no more sense than locking down Shetland because of infections in Stranraer. A broad-brush approach increases uncertainty, damages our travel industry, ruins holidays and deters visits from family and loved ones who live overseas. Will the Scottish Government therefore consider a more nuanced and flexible approach to quarantine?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Yes, we consider that. On a weekly basis, we look at the data that comes principally from the joint biosecurity centre, which gives data to the four United Kingdom nations. Increasingly, we also look at the data from the test and protect system, which, as well as trying to keep us all safe, is a rich—and getting richer—source of information about exactly where the risks are coming from.

We will always try to be as effective as possible, in as proportionate a way as possible. It is really important that we take steps that can effectively minimise the risk of importation of the virus. For example, we took the decision a couple of weeks ago to put quarantine requirements on people who come back from Greece, largely because the test and protect system told us that dozens of people who had tested positive in Scotland had reported recent travel in Greece. We were able to act in that case, and I think that we acted rightly. If the data allows it, we will be able to target the measures more effectively.

This is really difficult for everybody, particularly for the aviation sector. I absolutely understand that. I am sorry if this sounds really basic, but this is a global pandemic, which is accelerating globally. Therefore—it gives me no pleasure to say this—my advice to people right now has to be to think very carefully about non-essential foreign travel, given the gravity of the situation that the world is facing.

I hope that, before too long, that advice will change but, right now, the Government has a duty to minimise the risks of the virus spreading. One of the biggest risks that we face is the importation of the virus from elsewhere in the world. Such decisions are difficult. We will try to make them as proportionate as possible, but our most important obligation is to keep people as safe as possible.