Airports (Support)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th September 2020.

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Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

6. To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government is helping airports to survive during the Covid-19 pandemic. (S5F-04361)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The global downturn in aviation that has been caused by Covid has had a significant impact on airports and airlines around the world, including here. We have provided support to the sector within the powers that are available to us. Airports and ground handling companies have been granted 100 per cent non-domestic rates relief this year and we have also called on the United Kingdom Government to extend the job retention scheme to help the aviation industry through the winter season.

Our immediate focus is on helping airports to recover their route networks to maximise the potential for a return to connectivity and employment. We will also do everything that we can to help airports secure new routes. Scotland has a good record on that; in 2019, Scotland was better connected than ever before.

It will take time for demand to return; indeed, it will take time for us to recommend that people travel as they did before Covid. However, in the meantime, we will continue to do what we can to help the sector to recover.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

Over the past week, I have spoken to airport bosses based in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. They have painted a dire picture, in which thousands of jobs could be at risk and Scotland certainly will not be connected to the world. They are crying out for help and, as the First Minister knows, they want an airport testing regime that could reduce the need to quarantine.

I have also spoken to the wider travel sector. Barrhead Travel told me that Scotland risks losing an industry that contributes £1.7 billion to our economy and employs over 25,000 people. Earlier, Ruth Davidson mentioned figures that showed that less than 5 per cent of those people arriving in Scotland last week who were required to quarantine have been contacted by the national contact tracing centre. Surely, if we tested everyone on arrival, we would have 100 per cent contact and we could reduce the need for quarantine—is 100 per cent contact not better than less than 5 per cent?

The First Minister:

As I said to Willie Rennie, there is 100 per cent contact with people coming into the country who are subject to quarantine. They are all contacted by email and then a sample is contacted by telephone. Public Health Scotland can also involve the police if there are concerns about flagrant breaching of quarantine.

If we simply tested people on day 1 of their coming into the country, we could test 100 per cent of people, but we would then let into the country a significant percentage of people who had Covid because, unfortunately, if people are at an early stage in the incubation period, they test negative for Covid. The ability to test on day 1 and then test later as well is being explored. We would still not capture everybody, so we have to make some careful judgments about the balance of risk. We cannot simply be sanguine and shrug our shoulders about people coming into the country with Covid.

I think that Graham Simpson will find that there is not as much disagreement between us on the issue as he thinks there is. However, I presume that if what he asks for were as simple as he is making it out to be, his colleagues in the UK Government would already have done it, but they have not, for the same reasons as the Scottish Government has not yet done it. It involves complex issues to do with public health as well as logistics, efficacy and practicality, and we are all working through those issues as carefully and quickly as we can.

We all want to have a better alternative to quarantine. If that was as easy as the member makes out, other Governments to which he is perhaps more favourable would have found ways to do it, but they have not.