Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 15th December 2020.

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The First Minister:

I assure Willie Rennie that I am acutely aware of how close Christmas is right now. He is right to make that point, and I am very conscious of it. Notwithstanding what I said earlier about the difficulty of giving people certainty in the middle of a pandemic—I do not like that situation any more than anyone else does—I am nevertheless acutely aware that we should give them as much certainty and notice as we can. That said, it is right for us to discuss the matter with the Governments in the other parts of the UK to see whether we might be able to arrive at consensus. I will update the Parliament and, perhaps more importantly, the public—I say that with no disrespect to my parliamentary colleagues—on that as soon as possible.

I wish to make one point very clear, so that it is not lost. Right from the moment that, for pragmatic reasons, we decided to recognise that some people would choose to see their loved ones over Christmas and that we would therefore try to put boundaries around that, the Scottish Government and I have advised people not to mix with others over that period, particularly indoors, if they can possibly avoid it. That continues to be the advice that I would give to people. If they can do so, they should try to get through this Christmas without seeing loved ones. If they have to see them, they should try to do so outdoors. However, we need to ensure that we are not giving the virus chances to spread.

That takes me on to the second part of Willie Rennie’s question. I have gone through much of the past 10 months urging my clinical advisers to give me as much complicated, in-depth information as possible about the science behind all this. That is an understandable desire for all of us, and I am as guilty of it as anyone else. However, there are moments when we have to accept that, at heart, the situation is not complicated: we are dealing with an infectious virus, which the scientists tell us spreads when people come together and give it the opportunity to do so. That will happen in pubs and restaurants and in people’s own homes. It will also happen, if we allow it to, in care homes and hospitals and in all sorts of other settings.

Therefore we need to cut out activities that are unnecessary—that is perhaps not the best word to use, because most of us think that coming together with loved ones is a necessary part of life. However, right now, we have to go to work where possible and we also want children to be in school, so in order to prevent the virus from spreading, we have to try to cut out all the other interactions that we do not need to have. I know that that is impossibly tough for people, but for the remainder of this winter it will be necessary if we are to get through it and to get further into the vaccination programme with as little impact from the virus as possible.