Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd December 2020.

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The First Minister:

I am, like many people, overtired at the moment, but words almost fail me in responding to that.

I am sorry: I should have given part of this answer to Ruth Davidson. We have not abandoned the strategic framework. We will try to get back to applying different levels to different parts of the country—depending on the prevalence of the virus—as quickly as we can.

We have not abandoned our strategic approach, but we have not stood there, clinging to that approach, when a train is coming down the track to run us over. We have decided to respond to the evidence that we have a new strain of the virus that none of us saw coming or predicted. This is happening in all other parts of the UK and in other countries. Ireland has just decided on stringent new measures even though it does not yet have any identified cases of this strain.

We have decided to respond in a preventative and precautionary way in order to make sure that, by the end of January, we do not have an overwhelmed health service and that we have not run out of hospital and intensive care unit beds, but that we have managed instead to ward this off and to suppress the virus again.

I am so sorry that we have to do this, but I would be even sorrier, and people would have every right to be angry with me, if I did not take this action or if I let the country deal with the impact of what is coming down the track at us. I will continue to take difficult but necessary decisions to keep us as safe as I can.

We will continue to look at how we can step up support. I said in my statement that the finance secretary is already looking urgently at business support to see what more we can do. That will be true across a range of responsibilities.

It is when I reach Richard Leonard’s final two points that words begin to fail me. We have plenty of testing capacity and we are building it up. These are not simple equations in which the fact that a virus is 70 per cent more transmissible means that we need 70 per cent more test capacity. The reason why I can give some of the detail that I give every day is because we are testing so many people. We will continue to make sure that we have the capacity to do so. We are also rolling out lateral flow testing, although we must assure ourselves that lateral flow testing is sensitive enough to the new strain.

We will roll out the vaccine just as quickly as supplies allow us to do so. Nobody would love it more than I would to be able to magic vaccine supplies out of nowhere. I cannot do that, unfortunately. We are working hard to make sure that we act as soon as supplies come. We have the Pfizer vaccine supplies that we expected this year, and tens of thousands of people have already had their first dose. We are hoping that other vaccines will get approval in the UK shortly, and as soon as those supplies become available, we will get those vaccines to people and get those doses of vaccines into as many arms as we can. We are dependent on the vaccine developers, the companies and all the supply chain allowing us to do that. I really would hope that Richard Leonard would understand that.