Covid-19 (Glasgow)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 18th May 2021.

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Photo of Sandesh Gulhane Sandesh Gulhane Conservative

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on rising Covid-19 cases in Glasgow and parts of the greater Glasgow area.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I welcome Dr Gulhane to Parliament on the occasion of his first question to ministers.

In her statement to Parliament on Friday 14 May, the First Minister outlined the latest status of the outbreaks in Moray and Glasgow city, highlighting the public health response and plans to engage with local leaders, including around a package of support for the communities and those affected.

During the past few days, there has been a significant expansion of the testing programme and its capacity in the communities that are most directly affected by the increase in cases. That has also been supported by an expansion of the vaccination programme.

The First Minister has committed to reviewing the situation again at the end of this week. That will include a review of any further areas where concerns emerge and the formulation of an appropriate response to any such developments.

Photo of Sandesh Gulhane Sandesh Gulhane Conservative

As a general practitioner and someone of Indian heritage, I am aware of the hesitancy of vaccine uptake by members of ethnic minorities, who are at greater risk of a bad outcome. What measures will the Scottish Government take to ensure that we appeal to and convince those who are hesitant to take up the vaccine?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Dr Gulhane raises a significant issue. I assure him that the approaches that are being taken in relation to the deployment and delivery of the vaccination programme have been designed to address the very issue that he raises by ensuring that the communication of messages about the advantages of the programme is delivered in the communities affected, by identifying and encouraging members of those communities to exercise a role in communicating the advantages of taking forward the programme, and by ensuring that all individuals who have been and will be eligible for the vaccine are supported by particular messaging to encourage them to take up vaccination. Obviously, there are challenges in reaching some of the affected communities, but I assure Dr Gulhane that specific communication measures have been taken to make sure that we do, and we will sustain those during the critical period ahead.

Photo of Sandesh Gulhane Sandesh Gulhane Conservative

Glasgow businesses thrive on people from other parts of the country visiting the city to shop and go to its restaurants and pubs, and they are hard hit by the restrictions on non-essential travel that are in force. What assessment has the Scottish Government undertaken to ensure that the £750 that affected businesses are receiving is sufficient to support them through the continued restrictions?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

There is obviously a necessity for us, in these circumstances, to take action that none of us would ordinarily want to take, which essentially restricts movement because of the need to address the public health challenge that is before us. We would prefer not to have to put in place the conditions that are being applied in the city of Glasgow, but we have to do so because of the public health imperative.

The financial support that is being made available is regularly reviewed to determine its effectiveness and appropriateness. It is consistent with the approaches that we have taken in other parts of the country and in other, similar circumstances. We hope that the restrictions will have to last only for the shortest period possible, but during that period we will continue to review and engage with the business community on the detail and the substance of the financial support that is available.

The Presiding Officer:

There is a great deal of interest in the subject, as we would expect. I call Paul O’Kane.

Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour

Thank you, Presiding Officer. As this is my first contribution in the chamber, I congratulate you on being elected to the chair.

We are now in a race against time between the spread of new variants and the number of people who have been vaccinated. That is particularly true in places such as East Renfrewshire in my region and, indeed, Midlothian, where numbers are rising. Many local people and businesses that I have spoken to are extremely anxious, given speculation that East Renfrewshire may move backwards to level 3 restrictions just a matter of days after it moved to level 2.

Past experience has shown us what is required to get outbreaks of the virus under control, and early evidence suggests that vaccines remain effective against the so-called Indian variant. It is imperative that businesses are able to plan as far ahead as possible in the face of spikes such as the ones that we are seeing in East Renfrewshire, particularly given that many staff in businesses have been taken on in anticipation of restrictions easing and they are not covered by United Kingdom furlough schemes.

Does the Deputy First Minister agree that the Government needs to urgently prioritise an action plan for affected areas that will ramp up vaccinations and testing and ensure that there are proper measures for supporting local businesses to survive any changes in restrictions that are put in place at short notice?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I welcome Mr O’Kane to Parliament and wish him well in representing his constituents. He raises a number of very significant issues. I assure him that we are carefully monitoring on a daily basis the progress of virus levels in every part of the country to ensure that we are able to signal where we may have to take action in due course.

I am sure that Mr O’Kane will accept, as I am sure that Parliament will accept, that some of these circumstances can change quite dramatically over a relatively short period of time, so we are reviewing that information and, where we need to take action, we will do so.

Having said that, I also accept the very clear view, which I have heard from the business community, that it wishes to avoid a situation where there is volatility in level setting. I think that we all agree that that is an undesirable situation to be in. We were keen to move as a whole country down the levels last week. That had been our intention, but, for understandable reasons, we were unable to make the change from level 3 to level 2 in Moray and Glasgow. However, we will try to minimise the degree of volatility in the judgments that are made at any stage.

There will be a need for on-going dialogue with the business community around the measures that are necessary to support recovery during these uncertain times. I give Mr O’Kane and Parliament the assurance that ministers will engage in that dialogue on an on-going basis to make sure that we support Covid recovery in every respect in our communities and that we try to manage our way through these challenging times.

Obviously, the more public compliance there is with the measures that are in place, the quicker we can get these outbreaks under control, and I would encourage such an approach to be taken in due course.

Photo of Pam Gosal Pam Gosal Conservative

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I, too, extend my congratulations to you.

What actions has the Scottish Government taken to encourage people from ethnic minority communities with lower vaccination uptake to make an appointment for their first dose as soon as possible, given the risks from the new Indian variant?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I welcome Pam Gosal to Parliament and wish her well in representing her constituents.

I covered a number of those points in my earlier responses to Sandesh Gulhane. As members of Parliament, we all have a role to encourage members of different communities to take up the offer of vaccination. It is clear from all the available data that vaccination provides a substantial level of protection from the virus to any individual. On early evidence so far—I stress that it is early evidence—the existing vaccines are providing a very robust protection against the so-called Indian variant.

The Government’s communication and public health work reinforces my message on the advantages of vaccination for every member of our community, as it offers a higher degree of protection in all circumstances. We have taken steps over the past few days to reinforce that uptake message, particularly given the intensity of the outbreak in the south side of Glasgow, and we will continue to do so in the coming weeks.

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

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is writing to all those in the G41 and G42 postcode sectors to ask them to get tested. We know that surge testing works best when you go door to door. Any medical intervention should always be voluntary, but uptake is heightened when the opportunity for a test appears on people’s doorstep. What considerations has the Government given to that measure?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

In addition to the written correspondence to which Mr Cole-Hamilton refers, a number of steps have been taken to deploy various aspects of testing capacity into the heart of those communities. Lateral flow devices for self-testing are available from the Glasgow Central mosque and seven other sites at mosques and Islamic education centres in Glasgow. As of Friday, more than 3,000 boxes of seven-pack test kits had been distributed through those channels.

Eleven local test sites in Glasgow have been adapted to operate as dual polymerase chain reaction and lateral flow device sites all day—from 8 in the morning to 8 at night—from Saturday, and mobile testing units have been deployed in a number of locations. We are also working with Glasgow City Council and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to deliver lateral flow devices to more than 30,000 households early this week and we will have 40,000 packs in Glasgow in the course of this week.

A number of steps have been taken to directly distribute lateral flow tests to households and we will continue to review all possible steps to ensure that we maximise testing capability, and therefore uptake, in individual households to minimise the spread of the virus.

The Presiding Officer:

My apologies to those members whose questions I have been unable to take.