COVID 19: Health Secretary Freeman ‘backtracks’ over level four restrictions

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman says “all options are on the table at this point”

The health secretary has revised her claim that parts of Scotland could stay in level four when Covid restrictions are reviewed on 11 December.

Eleven areas, including most of central Scotland, are currently at the highest alert level.

The first minister has previously said that the toughest restrictions would be lifted at 18:00 next Friday.

Jeane Freeman, who has been caught up in one confusion versus clarity row after another, initially told BBC Scotland that “all options are on the table”.

But she later said her comments were meant to be in respect of which levels the 11 areas would drop down to.

The health secretary said a cabinet decision would be reached on Tuesday morning with Nicola Sturgeon announcing the details later that day.

Ms Freeman’s earlier comments on the BBC’s Politics Scotland programme appeared to contradict what the first minister said at the government’s coronavirus briefing on 20 November.

Nicola Sturgeon was asked by the BBC’s Aileen Clarke whether she could provide reassurances to businesses in level four areas – including hospitality and hairdressers – that they could confidently plan to reopen in December.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Level four restrictions in the areas will be lifted on the 11th of December. Before then we will have to make an assessment based on up-to-date data at the time about what levels these areas then go into.

“Will they go back to level three or could some of them go to level two? We can’t make that assessment right now because we need to wait and see what the data is, but the level four restrictions will be lifted on the 11th of December.”

Ms Freeman was asked on Politics Scotland about the chances of restrictions on nearly 2.3 million people in level four areas remaining – possibly until Christmas.

She said: “Right now, as is always the case in advance of these reviews, a great deal of work is going on – analysing the data, talking to colleagues on local authorities, taking senior clinical advice.

“All of this is designed to help us reach a judgement about what is the right thing to do.

“All options are on the table just now as you would expect them to be. People shouldn’t read from that any decision one way or the other.

“The work goes on over the weekend so that we have the most up-to-date data, the most up-do-date clinical advice. That’s important and it’s a big responsibility that we get that right for people across Scotland.”

Ms Freeman later tweeted: “11 local authorities currently in Level 4 will come out of that level on Friday. That position has not changed.

“The Cabinet will decide on Tuesday what level below 4 they’ll go into. My comments were intended to mean in respect of that decision, all options are on the table.”

Latest deaths

It comes as a further five people who tested positive for coronavirus were recorded to have died in the past 24 hours.

There are currently 951 people in hospital with a positive Covid test and 62 of those are in ICU.

The Scottish Conservatives said the “mixed messaging” from the health secretary created uncertainty and was “extremely unhelpful just days away from the latest review”.

The party’s health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “The questions she was asked could not have been clearer. These restrictions affect millions of people and they deserve a clear and consistent message from SNP ministers.

“While it is welcome that the government has eventually confirmed these restrictions will end, there was absolutely no need for this speculation to occur in the first place.”

Labour’s Monica Lennon, pictured left,  said: “It’s worrying that the first minister and the health secretary are contradicting each other on something as serious as the level four restrictions, leaving businesses and millions of Scots in limbo.

“This is no way to handle a pandemic.”

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said ministers had consistently failed to demonstrate the right measures were being put in place to cut infection rates and facilitate an easing of restrictions.

He said: “The public need a clear and effective plan of action, not guessing games.”

The areas currently under level four restrictions are East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire, West Lothian.

The rest of the country is in levels one to three of the five-tier system.

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