Nicola Sturgeon has warned she will consider introducing quarantine for English visitors to Scotland if the number of coronavirus cases south of the Border surges.
The First Minister said she had no plans at present for restrictions on cross-Border travel but “I’m not ruling anything out” to guard against higher infection rates in Scotland.
Pledging to adopt a “hard-headed” approach to public health, she cited the examples of quarantine checks US and German states with low Covid-19 transmission have introduced for people from those with high rates.
Speaking as Scotland recorded no Covid-19 deaths for the fourth day running, she said her strategy was to eliminate the virus, but she suspected Boris Johnson’s may be to allow it to circulate at a higher level as long as the NHS is not overwhelmed.
Ms Sturgeon challenged Mr Johnson to make a definitive statement that his coronavirus policy aim is the same as hers.
Ms Sturgeon vehemently denied her support for an independent Scotland would influence any future decision on a quarantine scheme, saying it was “entirely about public health.”
But Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tory leader, condemned her failure to rule out quarantining English visitors and argued the virus “should not be used as an issue to drive a wedge between Scotland and England.”
The SNP leader also warned she would not be “dragged along” to approve the UK Government’s air bridges plan from Scottish airports after claiming she had not been consulted.
If she refuses, Scottish holidaymakers will have to quarantine for 14 days on their return. Air bridges would mean they would not have to if they travelled to popular destinations such as France, Italy and Spain.
Ms Sturgeon’s quarantine warning came the day after Prof Devi Sridhar, one of her key advisers, said the First Minister should consider introducing quarantine if cases rise in England.
Visitors from nine US states with “significant community spread” will soon have to quarantine for 14 days if they travel to New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, it was announced last week.
The policy will affect those travelling from Florida, Arizona and Texas, where more than 5,000 new cases were recorded in a single day last week.
But any such quarantine policy would likely face fierce opposition from the beleaguered Scottish tourism industry, for which English ‘staycation’ visitors are vital, businesses operating on both sides of the Border and Scots with family in England.
Asked whether she would introduce the scheme from visitors elsewhere in the UK, Ms Sturgeon insisted she did not view the issue “through the prism of Scottish politics or the Scottish constitutional debate.”
She said: “These issues are first and foremost and, in fact, entirely about public health. We have no plans to introduce quarantine for people coming to Scotland from other parts of the UK.
“But there is a general issue that we have to consider as we go further through this pandemic. Our infection rates continue to fall.
“We have to be on our guard against cases coming into Scotland from elsewhere…So if we do see an ongoing divergence between infection rates and levels in Scotland and other parts of the UK, from a public health perspective we would require to give consideration to how we mitigate that and guard against infection rates rising in Scotland as a result.
“This is not political and it’s certainly not constitutional. I would ask people to look at examples from the other parts of the world.
“Right now, I believe if you are travelling to New York or New Jersey from certain other states in the US there are quarantine or other arrangements in place.”
Highlighting a similar scheme in Germany, she said: “This is something other parts of the world are already doing or considering.
“I hope that need won’t arise. I very much hope we will see infection levels fall in Scotland, as they are right now, and fall in the rest of the UK.”
But she warned: “From a public health perspective we have to be able to consider all options if required to try and stop a resurgence of infections in Scotland.”
Nicola Sturgeon says she’s considering quarantine on English entering Scotland as she believes Boris Johnson may be allowing Covid-19 to ‘circulate at a higher level’.
— Alan Cochrane (@Alan_Cochrane) June 29, 2020
Ms Sturgeon said there was “a basic objective and imperative for us here” to get back to normal and children back to school.
“I would really welcome a statement from the Prime Minister that England’s strategy was about trying to eliminate the virus as well,” she said.
She suggested that his strategy appeared to be “letting it circulate at higher levels as long as it doesn’t threaten to overwhelm the National Health Service.”
The First Minister concluded: “We haven’t come as far over the last three months surely simply to allow our infection rates to spiral again. So we’re going to have to be really hard-headed from a public health perspective here.”
But Mr Carlaw said: “The First Minister needs to rule out any attempt to close off Scotland from the rest of the UK. While it may be that localised lockdowns will be needed to deal with individual flare-ups over the months ahead, they should be handled as such.”
Ms Sturgeon said she will make a decision in the coming days over air bridges. The UK Government has powers over border controls.
However, health protection issues on overseas travel must be supported by Scottish government regulations because health is a devolved matter.
She added: “We cannot simply be dragged along in decisions that we have no knowledge of, that we don’t understand the basis of and might be wrong for our circumstances – I would be failing in my duty as First Minister if I allowed that to happen.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “This disappointing and divisive language from the First Minister is completely without foundation and undermines our joint efforts to tackle coronavirus.
“We informed the Scottish Government of our plans for air bridges last week and there have subsequently been a number of calls between officials.”
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