Covid-19

– in the Scottish Parliament on 9th February 2021.

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Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

The next item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson on Covid-19. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I will take this opportunity to update Parliament on the Scottish Government’s approach to international travel and border health measures. I will set out more detail shortly, but I can confirm that, from Monday 15 February, all international travellers who arrive directly into Scotland by air will be subject to a requirement to enter managed isolation.

First, I will provide the latest Covid statistics for Scotland, which the First Minister announced earlier today. The statistics set the context for the action that we consider to be necessary on travel and border controls. Yesterday, 822 positive cases were reported. That represents 7.2 per cent of all tests that were carried out. There are 1,618 people in hospital, which is a decrease of 54 from yesterday. There are 112 people in intensive care, which is four more than yesterday.

I am sorry to confirm that, in the past 24 hours, a further 58 deaths were registered of patients who first tested positive over the previous 28 days. As a result, there have now been 6,501 deaths under that measurement. I extend my sympathy and condolences to everyone who has lost a beloved member of their family or a friend.

Those numbers are still much higher than we would like, but they show that this wave of the pandemic is starting to recede.

At the same time, vaccine deployment continues at pace. We expect to exceed 1 million total vaccinations in Scotland this week. As of 8.30 this morning, 928,122 people in Scotland have received their first dose of the vaccine. Those encouraging signs help to explain why, in the Scottish Government’s view, stronger restrictions on international travel are needed.

The Covid-19 Genomics UK report on genomic sequencing shows the role that international travel played in the rise in cases last summer. Around 40 per cent of new lineages in Scotland identified in that analysis came directly from overseas through international travel. The rest came from elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

We also know that the nature of the risk from international travel has changed. We face a different challenge in variants of the coronavirus than we faced last year. Two specific mutations give cause for concern. That concern is increased because they have emerged repeatedly and independently in different parts of the world.

One mutation is believed to be associated with increased transmissibility, which makes it easier to spread the virus. The second mutation is believed to be associated with resistance to protective antibodies, so that, if someone has already had Covid-19, they could be at risk of reinfection from the variant. That could mean that the vaccines that we are deploying may be less effective against those variants. The variant identified in South Africa has both of those mutations, as does a second variant found in Brazil.

It is vital that we do everything possible to prevent those variants from entering Scotland and gaining a foothold. We cannot risk variants from international travel undermining the deployment of vaccines.

Of course, case numbers still matter. Our border health measures play an important role in suppressing the number of new cases in Scotland, but protecting the vaccines and helping us return to a greater degree of normality in our day-to-day lives is now also a major part of the purpose of the international travel regulations.

The Scottish Government is clear that policy on international travel controls must be guided by expert clinical advice, and that advice is clear. We need a comprehensive approach to restricting international travel.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies concluded in papers published last week that

“reactive, geographically targeted travel bans cannot be relied upon to stop importation of new variants.”

It went on to highlight

“the lag between emergence and identification of variants of concern” as well as

“the potential for indirect travel” to the UK via a third country.

Unfortunately, at present, the UK Government continues to rely on a targeted, reactive approach. That has been what we, along with the other UK nations, have been doing up until now. It has led to additional restrictions on travel from areas at risk from the variants identified in South Africa and Brazil—covering South America, large parts of Africa and countries with close travel links to those regions. It is clear that that approach is no longer sufficient to provide the protection that is necessary. It depends on the ability of the joint biosecurity centre to assess the risk of variants. The JBC will update us on countries subject to those measures next week. However, the key challenge is the availability of data to inform the JBC’s analysis.

With very limited genome sequencing taking place globally, the data on new variants is unreliable. It is therefore hard to say with confidence, even for the variants that we know about, where the high-risk countries are. That is why the Scottish Government wants a comprehensive approach to managed isolation.

So, from Monday, we will require all international travellers who fly directly into Scotland to enter managed isolation. That goes further than the measures announced by the UK health secretary earlier today. The UK Government has committed to adopting managed isolation only for travellers returning from red list countries. We know that that is not sufficient, and we have therefore gone further.

We believe that—with some limited exemptions—all international travellers should be required to isolate in managed facilities The Welsh First Minister has echoed that, arguing that anyone entering the UK should be expected to quarantine.

Our aim has always been to manage international travel on a four-nations basis where possible. We are therefore engaging with the UK and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive to agree a joint approach to contracting the transport and accommodation services required for managed isolation. That will involve a common approach to the procurement of hotels and related services, initially in England and Scotland, based on a UK Government contract. That approach will have the flexibility to respond to the different policy direction that we are taking to ensure that all arrivals in Scotland are required to enter quarantine.

Passengers flying to Scotland from overseas will be required to use a common online portal to book and pay for a period of mandatory isolation in a quarantine hotel. That booking system, operated by the UK Government, will go live on Thursday. We have identified six hotels close to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports, with a combined capacity of 1,300 rooms. The cost to the first traveller in a room will be £1,750, with supplementary costs for additional family members.

Those costs will include a mandatory testing regime: we will require all arrivals to be tested on day 2 and day 8 after their arrival. That will be organised at first through the UK testing programme, with the intention of quickly moving to using private sector testing provision. The Lighthouse lab has the capacity to meet the need for testing that would be caused by current levels of travel. We will develop a managed isolation welfare fund for travellers who may struggle to meet the charges associated with quarantine.

We have been in touch with the airports. Transport Scotland officials briefed Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow airports over the weekend, and the connectivity minister, Paul Wheelhouse, is discussing managed isolation with Scottish airports as I speak.

The number of travellers coming directly to Scotland is reducing, and I expect the quarantine measures to reduce arrivals further. There were approximately 1,600 arrivals in the final week of January, but that fell to only around 730 in the first week of February. However, the number of people arriving via other hubs is rising. Passengers who enter England from red-list countries and who intend to travel on to Scotland will have to isolate in a hotel in England. Last week, there were 130 such travellers.

We continue to press the UK Government to adopt a more comprehensive approach and to require all arrivals to go into a quarantine hotel. We ask the UK Government to work with us to identify any international travellers who are not caught by the current approach, so that arrangements can be made for them to isolate in a quarantine hotel, in line with policy in Scotland.

The measures will be backed up with the introduction of new criminal offences. Those will add to the powers that enforcement bodies already have at their disposal, such as the offences of culpable and reckless conduct.

We are working closely with Police Scotland, Border Force and other justice partners on implementing a range of offences and penalties to support the managed isolation policy and aid compliance. Of course, no non-essential international travel is allowed at present. It is important that people adhere to these rules. We will continue to keep them under review and to consider whether we need to do more to protect our communities from the risk of importation.

There will be some exemptions from the requirement to isolate in managed facilities. However, many exemptions will require travellers to self-isolate at home or in their own accommodation. They will be able to leave isolation only for the essential work that they are here to do. A small number of arrivals will not be required to isolate; for example, those in essential supply chains for goods coming into Scotland, foreign diplomats and those in essential defence activities. We are also tightening some of our existing exemptions further. That will include limiting overseas training for elite sportspeople to athletes and coaches preparing for the Olympics and Paralympics.

The number of international travellers coming into Scotland has fallen significantly. Non-essential travel remains unlawful and the majority of arrivals right now are required to self-isolate at home. The stronger approach that we are taking is necessary and proportionate. I expect tougher restrictions to lead to a further reduction in travel numbers.

As transport secretary, I understand the impact that these vital measures to protect Scotland from the virus will have on the aviation sector. There is a role for the sector to play, and we will work closely with airlines and airports to ensure that passengers are conveyed safely and securely at all stages of their journey. We are supporting the sector, including by maintaining our package of business rates relief for airports. However, given the challenges that the aviation sector in Scotland is facing, I intend to build on our existing engagement and create an aviation working group. It is important that the group meets the needs of the sector, so we will work with our industry stakeholders to refine its scope.

We have had to make many difficult decisions in the course of this pandemic, and this one is no different. It is clear that to manage the risk of the importation of new variants and give vaccine deployment the best chance of bringing us closer to normality here in Scotland, we have to place further limitations on international travel. In order for those to be as effective as possible, I will continue to encourage UK ministers to match our ambition and help protect Scotland and all of the UK.

The Presiding Officer:

Thank you. We move now to questions. Graham Simpson is first, then Colin Smyth.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

It would be normal at this point for me to thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement, but it arrived just minutes before he got to his feet, which is unacceptable.

However, I am delighted that the Scottish Government’s vaccine roll-out has speeded up. Progress could have been faster, but we are pleased that the pace has finally picked up.

The cabinet secretary has given us some information today about new quarantine measures for people arriving in Scotland. Airports need to be fully on board and to understand what is expected of them, but until today—as we have heard—no minister had been in touch with any airport about the plans. I therefore have a few questions for the cabinet secretary.

Why did ministers not engage with the airline sector at an early stage? Is there a UK agreement to contract transport and accommodation yet? Have any hotel rooms been procured? Other than the business rates relief that has already been announced, when will sector-specific support be available?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Let me deal with Graham Simpson’s first point. I apologise to members for the late arrival of my statement. A combination of my appearing at committee and dealing with a number of weather-related issues prevented my being able to finalise it and distributed it to members.

During the past year, I have had very regular extensive discussions with airports, airlines and aviation-related businesses on a wide range of matters that have been progressed. Graham Simpson will acknowledge the complexity of the procurement process that has had to be put in place, and the complexity of operationalising provision of managed-isolation hotels. Because of the four-nations approach that we have taken, that has taken longer than we all would have liked it to take.

Having settled on an agreed approach, which is being progressed, we are now informing the aviation sector exactly how that approach will be rolled out. That is happening right now—Paul Wheelhouse is in discussion with Edinburgh Airport Ltd and AGS Airports, to take them through the process.

In relation to the UK agreement for transportation and accommodation, I can advise Graham Simpson that through the UK Government contract that we are using in partnership with it, for the purposes of delivering managed isolation for 15 February, all the hotel accommodation that will be block booked by the Scottish Government has been identified. We have given details of that to the UK Government in order to ensure that that accommodation is put in place through its contract. Work is being progressed by civil servants to ensure that it is in place for next week.

In Graham Simpson’s final question, on business rates relief, he gave the impression that we have given just business rates relief and that is about it—that we have done nothing else. I gently point out to him that, in Scotland, we have provided business rates relief to the aviation and airport sectors, but the UK Government has not.

We have repeatedly told the UK Government that it needs to show greater commitment to supporting the wider aviation sector in the whole of the UK. To date, it has failed to do that. However, I assure Graham Simpson that we will continue to provide the sector with rates relief, as we have said, for the first three months of the next financial year and that we will continue to press the UK Government to provide a package of support to assist the aviation sector across the UK through what is a challenging and difficult time for it.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

A year ago, the World Health Organization said that the key to tackling Covid-19 was “test, test, test”. In response, the Scottish Government has been slow, slow, slow. It has been slow to introduce airport testing, having voted against Labour’s calls for that in Parliament five months ago. It has been slow to introduce a quarantine system that is properly enforced—at one point, just one in 10 people arriving at Scotland’s airports was receiving a follow-up check—and it has been slow to provide support to a civil aviation sector that is, frankly, haemorrhaging jobs, and we still have no sign of any sector-specific support.

The lack of consultation of Scotland’s airports ahead of the statement probably suggests that the final details have still not been fully worked out. Why has it taken 10 months from the first lockdown to introduce airport testing and a quarantine regime that will be properly enforced? Will the cabinet secretary explain in detail how we will avoid passengers circumventing the isolation regime by flying via countries that are not effectively covered by the red list in England, landing at airports in England, then travelling to their final destination in Scotland? Have detailed proposals been agreed with the UK Government so that, for example, anyone arriving at Manchester airport or Heathrow must isolate—and is provided with details of that—at the point of arrival at Manchester, London or wherever else?

I ask the cabinet secretary again whether the Government will give serious consideration to providing sector-specific support for aviation. We have seen other areas being provided with such support, but the aviation industry will be haemorrhaging jobs for some time to come.

Finally, what plans will he put in place—

The Presiding Officer:

Mr Smyth, you have asked about four questions already.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

Okay. I am sure that the cabinet secretary will give four good answers.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I always do, Presiding Officer.

I will first address Colin Smyth’s general comments on international borders. It is fair to say, if we look back on the course of the past 10 months, that one area in which the Government collectively regrets that more robust action was not taken, following the first wave of the coronavirus last year, was in application of stricter restrictions on international travel and the risks that are associated with it. That is true not only here, in Scotland, but across the UK and, broadly, across Europe.

That is why we are determined to take as much action as we can, within our powers, to help to minimise such risks, this time round. As the First Minister has said on a number of occasions, we will not always get everything right, but where we think that we can do things better and can learn from the past we will always ensure that we do so. That is the approach that we are taking on international travel.

Colin Smyth also referred to the challenges that are faced by the civil aviation sector. I am sure that it will not be lost on him that Scotland was the first—and only—part of the UK to offer business rates relief to the sector at the very outset of the pandemic, in recognition of the marked impact that the pandemic would have on it. We will continue to do everything that we can do. However, the reality is that many major aviation businesses that operate in Scotland are not based here, so they are outwith our direct jurisdiction. That is why it is essential that the UK Government puts in place a package of support for the civil aviation sector, as we move forward.

I want to pick up on Mr Smyth’s point about individuals who travel into English airports from overseas, but not from red-list countries, who then travel on to Scotland. That is an issue that we are discussing with the UK Government. The system would work better if we were to have a comprehensive approach across the UK. I know that Mr Smyth’s colleagues at Westminster have been arguing for such an approach, and we continue to press the UK Government to introduce it. That would reduce the risk of anyone seeking to circumvent arrangements that we put in place here in Scotland.

However, we ask the UK Government, if we are not able to achieve that, to work with us to identify people who come into English airports then travel on to Scotland, in order that we can ensure that they are assigned quarantine hotels in England for the purposes of their managed isolation for 10 days, in line with Scottish Government policy. We do not yet have agreement from the UK Government on that, but we will continue to pursue that with it, because that approach will help to reduce further the risks here.

I say to Mr Smyth that we will do everything that we can to support the aviation sector. However, as he will recognise, there are limitations to what we can do directly here in Scotland, given the UK and international nature of such business, which is why the UK Government needs to introduce a support package.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

In the past few minutes,

I have received correspondence from the operators of Edinburgh airport, which is one of the biggest employers in my constituency. It has informed me that it received notice and details of the plan only as the cabinet secretary got to his feet, some moments ago. Does he feel that that is an appropriate approach to involving the aviation sector, especially as airports will have to play a key role in the delivery of the system—not least in the safe disembarkation of passengers and their delivery to the quarantine hotels?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We indicated our intended direction of travel and its implications to the operators of Edinburgh airport and others in the aviation sector last week. I am sure that Mr Cole-Hamilton will recognise that, on such an important issue, which will have an impact on so many individuals, whether they be travellers or workers in the aviation sector, it is my responsibility first to come and explain matters to Parliament and to set out the Scottish Government’s approach. That is why, at the time of making my statement, we arranged to meet representatives from the airports to provide them with a much greater level of detail.

The member can be assured that our first line of responsibility here is to the Parliament, in explaining these matters, and that we will continue to work with the aviation industry to ensure that it is provided with the relevant information so that we can deliver this next week, once we move to implementation of the managed quarantine arrangements.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I thank the minister for the statement. Personally, I am glad that it was announced to the Parliament first, rather than going to vested interests before the Parliament was informed.

I welcome the moves that are being made to introduce additional measures for the immediate period ahead, but the statement did not say very much about the longer term. Will the cabinet secretary rule out the idea—which has been touted elsewhere—of vaccine passports, which would carry a risk of continued transmission of new variants as they emerge and would also risk establishing a principle that people’s civil rights are dependent on their medical history?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I am grateful to the member for his comments. He referred to our longer-term approach, specifically in reference to vaccine passports. I do not believe that there is a need for the use of vaccine passports at present.

In my view, they are not an adequate replacement for the protection that we get from a managed quarantine programme and from ensuring that individuals are being tested prior to arrival in the country and tested again once they have arrived in the country.

It is possible that, at some point in the future, vaccine passports might have some part to play. However, I recognise that some civil liberties issues would have to be addressed before that could happen.

In short, I do not believe that vaccine passports have a role to play in the short to medium term. In the longer term, they may have a part to play, but some civil liberties issues need to be addressed before a vaccine passports programme could be rolled out nationally or internationally.

Photo of Joan McAlpine Joan McAlpine Scottish National Party

I very much welcome the cabinet secretary’s statement and the Scottish Government’s comprehensive approach. However, I want to raise a constituency issue. The Camphill community, which is a presence at Loch Arthur, in my South Scotland constituency, relies on young volunteer health and social care workers coming from Europe. The community has written to me, pointing out that its volunteer model is already being hit very hard by Brexit and that it is concerned that its volunteers would not be able to meet the cost of hotel quarantine, which would mean even fewer volunteers.

As I say, I welcome the quarantine measures, but can the Government say how they will affect charities such as Camphill, and is any sort of financial mitigation possible?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

First, I say to anyone who is considering travelling internationally or even domestically that, right now, they should be doing so only for absolutely essential reasons. The law is very clear on that matter.

In relation to the impact that some of the costs could have on organisations in the charitable sector, where individuals are coming into the country for essential purposes, we are establishing a welfare fund to address some of the financial needs that individuals may face, given the costs that are associated with that. I hope to be able to set out more details of how that will operate in the coming days. I undertake to ensure that, as we move forward this week with more details on the welfare arrangements and the other arrangements for operationalising the policy, I will write to all MSPs, setting out that process and the routes that they can go down in order to get further information or more clarity on points that they may want further information on.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

What discussions has the Government had on the potential impact of the increased restrictions on Scotland’s regional and local airports—including many across my region—and the airlines that maintain lifeline links with some of the most remote communities?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

With the exception of Inverness airport, most of the

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd airports operate only domestic flights, and the restrictions on essential travel are having more of an impact on domestic flights. That is why we are providing financial support to Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd and to Loganair, to help to maintain essential connectivity to our island communities.

I recognise the member’s point about how critical the issue is to some of our most remote communities in Scotland. He can be assured that we will continue to offer what support we can to maintain those lifeline aviation services, which are critical to rural Scotland.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Many of us have close family living overseas. For example, thanks to the union dividend, my twin sister lives in Canada. Tragedies—often sudden ones—can affect anyone, and some faiths prioritise speedy committal. Therefore, will flexibility be considered for people who are flying in for the funeral of a sibling, parent, son or daughter?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We are considering including that in the exemption regime that will be associated with the managed isolation provisions. The member will recognise that we are keen to restrict the extent of the exceptions that apply in the policy, because, if there are too many, the accumulation can undermine the policy intent. However, we are considering issues of compassionate grounds, and those will be dealt with in the final regulations that we will introduce to Parliament later this week.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Given that our airports have now been operating in an extremely uncertain world for a year, what work is being done to develop a recovery plan for them? In particular, what work has the cabinet secretary initiated to ensure that we retain the direct flights to Scotland that have been introduced in recent years, given the likelihood of smaller fleets all round?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I have commissioned officials to take forward work on two elements of that. One relates to what the recovery will look like in the aviation sector and what we can do to support the sector with its recovery. The second element is consideration of route recovery directly. That involves considering what support we can provide to assist with the recovery of some of the routes that we have lost.

Sarah Boyack makes the important point that there has been a significant reduction in fleet size and capacity in the airline sector; therefore, competition to recover some of the routes will be greater than the competition in the past. That is why I have commissioned officials to consider how we can develop a recovery programme that assists us by prioritising the routes that we want to target for re-establishment when we can do so. Officials have already started an early piece of work on that, and they have discussed the issue with the airports on several occasions. We will also look at the wider recovery in the aviation sector as part of a working group that will consider some of the wider challenges in the months ahead.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

In drawing up the exemptions regime that the cabinet secretary referred to a moment ago, what thought is being given to those who need to work abroad but do so on rotation—that is to say, some weeks in a third country and some weeks on home leave? Will such Scottish workers be required to quarantine in a hotel each time, at not inconsiderable expense, or will self-isolation at home be considered as an alternative?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We are considering a couple of areas in relation to exemptions. I will pick up on the general point that the member is making with specific reference to the oil and gas sector, where staff very often work on rotation. We are giving specific consideration to the way in which any exemption would operate for the oil and gas sector, including whether the option of self-isolating at home during the period of leave would be more appropriate than managed isolation in a hotel. We are actively considering those matters. We are seeking to align with the approach in other parts of the UK in order to simplify the process as much as possible. I assure the member that the issue is actively being considered.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

Has the Scottish Government carried out modelling of the economic impact of the quarantine measures? Has modelling been carried out in the event that the coronavirus continues to mutate?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The approach that we are taking in relation to managed isolation is based on clinical advice. The advice is clearly that, if we do not manage international travel into Scotland and the UK much more effectively, we run the risk of importing further variants of the virus, which could undermine the progress that we are making with our vaccination programme and with suppressing the virus here, in Scotland.

It is clear from the joint biosecurity centre’s assessment that the existing regime is no longer fit for purpose and that a comprehensive system will be much more effective.

I would not ignore the significant economic impact of such measures on sectors in Scotland, especially the aviation sector, but we are trying to balance the competing challenges of the situation that is faced by the aviation sector in relation to international travel and our desire to get some level of domestic normality in Scotland by reducing the risk of importing new variants of the virus. A balance must be struck, and we are trying to do that in a way that helps to get normality back in Scotland as quickly as possible, which will help to support our economy to return to normal.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I note from the cabinet secretary’s statement that 40 per cent of new lineages of the virus come to Scotland from overseas international travel, which means that 60 per cent come from elsewhere in the UK. What more can be done to reduce that worrying 60 per cent figure?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Christine Grahame raises an important issue. The first thing that people can do is comply with the regulations, which means not travelling unless it is absolutely essential. That applies to travel between Scotland and England and travel within Scotland. If people stick to the rules, that will help all of us to suppress the virus much more effectively.

I can tell Christine Grahame that, as ministers in the other devolved nations have done, I have raised the issue of the existing arrangements across the common travel area—that is, England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—and the risk of importation and transportation of the virus across those common borders. Among the issues on which we are seeking to make progress is how we can help to reduce the risk of the virus being transported across different parts of the common travel area.

Discussions are taking place on a four-nations basis, and I understand that the UK Government is engaging with the Irish Government specifically on measures that could be introduced to reduce that risk further. It is an area that is being actively considered and on which we would like further progress to be made. We are looking at what measures can be put in place, and I can assure Christine Grahame that, if we are in a position to do more on that, we will take appropriate action.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

My heart goes out to the families of the 58 people who have died of Covid over the past 24 hours. Given that there have been 6,501 deaths from the virus in Scotland, I am sure that Michael Matheson will understand why older people, in particular, are terrified of it.

Therefore, I must raise with him the absolute chaos that ensued yesterday around vaccine centres in Fife, where older people were left queueing in the freezing cold for up to two hours, only for some of them to be sent back home.

Why are people over the age of 70 in rural Fife not able to do the same as people over 80—access their local general practitioner practice or health centre to get the vaccine? I am told that the reason for that is that it is cheaper to do it through the hubs. Does the cabinet secretary accept that, regardless of whether it is cheaper, it is not practical for old people to be told that they must get on two buses in order to reach a vaccination centre?

In addition, I am told that the Government told NHS Fife to cut the time for vaccination from seven minutes per vaccination to three minutes per vaccination. I understand that we want to get people vaccinated, but we cannot have such chaos. Will the cabinet secretary agree to look at what the issues are in Fife and get them sorted as soon as possible?

The Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Mr Rowley. That question might be better put to Jeane Freeman, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, who will be taking an urgent question on that very matter shortly. However, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity may wish to give a brief reply.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I recognise the concerns that Alex Rowley has raised and I know that NHS Fife has apologised for the error that was made yesterday with its booking arrangement. As the Presiding Officer rightly pointed out, an urgent question is due to be answered on that very matter following my statement, and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has indicated that she will seek to address the points that Mr Rowley has raised.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

The cabinet secretary mentioned a moment ago the four-nations or five-nations discussions that he is having with the UK Government and the Welsh and Irish Governments. What do we need to do to ensure that folk who land somewhere else in the UK and travel up to Scotland comply with the quarantine? Who will monitor that?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The most effective way for managed isolation to operate is for individuals to go into a quarantine facility at their point of arrival into the country and not at the end of their journey within that country. We have made the point to the UK Government that, given the policy approach that we are taking here in Scotland, we would like all individuals who come into the UK and whose final destination is in Scotland to go into managed isolation hotels. That would require the UK Government to implement our policy at the airports that will be entry points within England.

To date, we do not have agreement on that matter, but I assure the member that we are continuing to pursue it with the UK Government because it would assist us greatly in ensuring that we reduce the risk of the new variant being introduced to Scotland.

Notwithstanding that, I strongly believe—on the basis of all the clinical advice that I have read, the assessment that came from COG-UK and the joint biosecurity centre’s assessment of the matter—that the most effective way for the whole of the UK to reduce the risk of new variants being introduced to Scotland and the rest of the UK is through a comprehensive, managed quarantine system across the whole of the UK. I still believe that that is the best thing that the UK Government could put in place to address some of the wider concerns that we have about individuals arriving at airports in England.

Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

Scottish airports will need to transport passengers from aircraft to their quarantine venues. I ask the cabinet secretary to confirm how those transfers will take place and who will carry them out.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

That is part of the contract that has been taken forward and is being implemented across the four nations. The arrangement will be that, at the point of arrival, those individuals who require to go into self-isolation hotels will be transported to the hotels that they have been allocated to. The process will start at the point of arrival and will run right through to the point of the person being transported to the managed isolation hotel. That will all be part of a comprehensive package that is being put in place as part of the contract arrangements.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement of supervised quarantine, as we have seen that it is a successful measure that helps to tackle the spread of Covid-19 in other countries.

How will the Scottish Government engage with accommodation providers to ensure that appropriate infection control measures are maintained to the appropriate high standard consistently and at all times within the hotels that will be booked?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The specification for the hotels sets out a range of measures that they have to put in place, including items that relate to the hygiene standards and security that need to be maintained in the facility.

The arrangements in the hotel will be that the individual will be allocated a room and they will not be able to mix with other guests. In their room, they will be provided with their meals, drinks et cetera as part of a complete package of measures, and the tests will be carried out during their period of isolation. All the arrangements that the hotels need to have in place are part of the wider contract that they must comply with.

I suspect that, as with the introduction of any complex arrangement such as this one, there will be some challenges at the start. There may be some areas where improvements will be needed or we may have to smooth out some initial difficulties. However, the contract seeks to address all the issues and ensure that both the hygiene standards and the arrangements for security and the isolation of those who are residing in the hotels will be maintained appropriately.