Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 8th December 2020.

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The First Minister:

With the greatest of respect, I think that any genuine reasonable look across every local authority area would show that the indicators have not been abandoned.

Yes, as we review the content of the levels, we will also be looking at the indicators to make sure that we are learning from the weeks in which the level approach has been in place and to consider whether any modifications are necessary. That process will be under way into and during the Christmas period, so that is a legitimate question to pose.

Willie Rennie mentioned various local authority areas. If we take Midlothian for example, in the most recent seven days, the number of cases there has increased by 16 per cent and the test positivity has gone up by 1.3 per cent which, again, cautions us against taking it down a level. In Fife, in the most recent seven days, we have seen a 3 per cent increase in the number of cases. In Perth and Kinross, although there has been a bit of a fluctuation, there is no significant reduction in the number of cases. Our judgment is that taking those areas down a level at this stage—remember, doing that is not neutral; it opens things up and therefore gives the virus opportunities to transmit—would be too risky to do. We need to see more sustainable progress.

That is the judgment that we try to bring to all these decisions. They are not straightforward or easy decisions; often, they are not absolutely black and white decisions. However, it is important that we try our best to get them right.

On the other side of this, a few weeks ago, we took a precautionary decision to put Angus into a higher level at the same time as we put Perth and Kinross into a higher level. Angus has come down a level today. Therefore, areas should not see themselves as being stuck. We review the situation every week, and a number of local authorities are coming down a level today. It is important that we try to get the decisions as right as possible, because the last thing we want to do is to take an area down prematurely and then have to put it back up again almost immediately because we have triggered an increase in the number of cases because its position was not sustainable.

As I said to Richard Leonard, it would be much easier to apply a blanket set of restrictions across the country, but that would not be right. That is why I think that this system, albeit that it is more complex, is the better one to have.