No sign of Nicola turning up on TV to explain and apologise
By Democrat reporter
There are “lessons to learn” after the decision to remove Spain from the list of countries exempt from quarantine, Humza Yousaf said after being given a hospital pass by the First Minister to explain what looks like on the face of it a major bloomer by the Scottish government..
The government had added Spain to the list last week, but reversed that decision on Saturday and caused chaos and confusion, cash losses and disappointment for thousands of Scots who hoped to squeeze a few days holiday out of a really rotten summer.
Travellers returning to Scotland will now have to self-isolate for 14 days, and for teachers and the like that puts obeying quarantine guidelines out of the question.
Mr Yousaf, the justice secretary, said the change was made after “deeply alarming” data emerged showing cases almost doubling in Spain.
Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme, he said the decision was taken on a “four-nation” basis, and acknowledged how “frustrating and disappointing” the situation was for many tourists.
Up to now, Scottish politicians and Nicola Sturgeon in particular, have been at pains to tell the world that they were not tackling the pandemic lockdown in lockstep with other nations.
And certainly not PM Boris Johnston and England in particular.
He said: “The reason is very much based on the public health data we received on Saturday from the UK Government that showed a deeply alarming trend in Spain.
“In the space of a week, from the 17th of July to the 24th of July we saw cases in Spain almost double from 5,700 to 11,000.”
He added that the spike in cases were “not localised”, as the data analysed by Public Health England had shown a rise in cases in 15 of the Spain’s 19 regions.
Mr Yousaf said it is “inevitable” that countries which are currently on the exempt list for quarantine will be removed as spikes in coronavirus cases emerge, but some could also be added if the virus is being suppressed.
Scotland lifted the 14-day rule just last week, but when asked if that was a mistake, Mr Yousaf, sent out to face the media to defend his boss, said that “decision was based on the data”.
“The prevalence, which is the percentage of the population per 100,000 that is infectious – that had dramatically reduced, in fact it was lower than what Scotland’s was,” he added.
“Clearly on reflection, perhaps there are some lessons for us to learn, I’m never against us doing that.
“I think that’s important for us to do, particularly because without a global vaccine being available there are going to be times when countries are going to be taken off the exempt list, put back on the list, depending on the data that we receive.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has asked the Scottish government to compensate travellers who could lose a portion of income due to self-isolation when they return from Spain.
Mr Rennie described the decision to reimpose quarantine on those returning from Spain as “shambolic and avoidable”, and urged the Scottish government to create a helpline for those affected.
He said: “Now we need some practical solutions to support those travellers who jumped at the opportunity to go to Spain only to find themselves facing a fortnight off work in isolation. For many this could mean a significant loss of income.
“The people who need help are those who left for holiday to Spain last week because they were told by the Scottish government there would be no requirement to quarantine on their return.
He added: “The reduction in earnings imposed by going onto statutory sick pay can be huge at a time when household incomes are strained. The Scottish government need to take responsibility for their error and ensure that people are supported.”
Speaking before Mr Rennie’s comments, Humza Yousaf said he sympathised with holidaymakers, but hoped they would accept the reason for the change.
He said travel during the pandemic would always carry “some element of risk” as the situation could change rapidly, adding he “has not seen any proposals” for compensating travellers who may lose out financially as a result of self-isolation.
More than 900 new cases of the virus were reported in Spain on Friday, and Spanish officials have warned a second wave could be imminent as major cities have seen cases surge.
The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) said it was right public health was the number one priority but questioned why the decision to re-impose the self isolation rule was taken late on Saturday.
SPAA president Joanne Dooey told BBC Scotland the weekend was the busiest time for flights to Spain and some travel agents had worked through the night to try and get information to their customers.
The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to mainland Spain. Quarantine measures apply to those returning from mainland Spain, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, such as Majorca and Ibiza.
The UK’s biggest tour operator, Tui, has cancelled all mainland Spanish holidays until 9 August.
Humza Yousaf said the economy secretary, Fiona Hyslop, was in touch with travel companies to discuss support.
Among those affected by the new rules is UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who began his holiday in Spain on Saturday. He is expected to continue his trip as planned and isolate in line with guidance on his return.
The Scottish government had previously held off relaxing the 14-day quarantine rule before adding Spain to its list of exempt countries last week.
A spokeswoman said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had advised that people should still take a “cautious approach” to foreign travel.
The spokeswoman said: “We have been clear that we may require to remove a country from the list of places exempt from quarantine requirements should the virus show a resurgence.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said no worker following quarantine guidance should be penalised by employers, including by being put onto sick pay.
Meanwhile, in another questionable move, the Scottish government decided to release figures for people with the virus and those who have died from it on a more local scale.
This was supposed to allow people to gauge how badly their local area had been hit and where there had been or were spikes.
However, this was impossible for people living in the huge Glasgow and Clyde Health Board area, which covers most of the West of Scotland.
“We might as well just have the figures for the whole country,” said one person in lockdown. “The ones that have been issued are as useful as a chocolate teapot.”