Cash is coming but people who get vaccinated today are not immediately protected

Douglas Ross, Nicola Sturgeon, Boris Johnston and Rishi Sunak.

By Bill Heaney

Scotland’s vaccination scheme has already delivered a booster to more than half of all people over-18. That is down to everyone in our national health service, our armed forces and all our volunteers., according to Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross.

He told First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: “However, to get ahead in the race against the new variant, we still need to vaccinate far more people. For weeks, we have been calling for the reintroduction of mass vaccination centres. Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly refused until, on Tuesday, she accepted, and agreed about, the need for them.

“We have learned today that the Edinburgh International Conference Centre and Hampden park in Glasgow will open as mass vaccination centres; we have been calling for exactly that for weeks. There was no mention of it in the First Minister’s statement, so perhaps she can tell us now how many other new centres will open, where they will be and when they will start vaccinating people.”

Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs: “Douglas Ross is absolutely right to raise the critical importance of vaccination and the speed of vaccination. Innn the context of the race between the virus and the vaccines, we are, of course, going as fast as we can and will continue to pick up pace with vaccination.

“However, a person who is vaccinated with the booster today will not immediately get the protection of immunity; it will be some days before that is the case.

“Right now, cases of the omicron variant are doubling every two or so days. Therefore, no matter how fast we go with vaccination the variant is, at the moment, running faster. Yes—we need to speed up vaccination, but while we do that we must also act to slow down the virus. That is a simple statement of fact. Protection of health and lives, as well as of the economy and businesses, depends on our doing that.

“Yesterday we became the first part of the UK to have vaccinated more than 50 per cent of over-18s with the booster. We still have the fastest vaccination programme in the UK. We are picking up the pace every day, which the figures that I have given today demonstrate.

“One of the most important things that we are doing—and there is still capacity to be got from it—is that we are shifting our focus from the remainder of the flu vaccination campaign to boosters. In the past two days, each day we administered more than 70,000 vaccinations; some of them—I think there were 14,000 yesterday—were flu vaccinations.

“We are also opening up more facilities. For NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, we are using Hampden Park. Glasgow central mosque is already available as a mass, or large-scale, vaccination centre. In NHS Lothian, Lowland hall at Ingliston is already operating as a large-scale vaccination centre. In NHS Lanarkshire, there are the facilities at Ravenscraig.

Given what I said about switching from flu vaccinations, I am confident that we can get to around 70,000 vaccinations a day, as we want to. Everything is being done so that we can achieve that. However, no matter how fast we go, the virus is running so fast that we must also take action to slow it down.”

Douglas Ross was not content with the FM’s answer and told her: “I certainly will not lose sight of the First Minister’s first point. She was right to say that people who get vaccinated today are not immediately protected from the virus. That is why Conservatives have been calling for weeks for the reintroduction of mass vaccination centres.

“If the Scottish Government had acted when we first called for them—twice after Covid statements in November and at First Minister’s question time two weeks ago—we would be further along the road than we are.”

He added: “In addition, the new variant has meant necessary changes to guidance, but it is not right that, once again, businesses are still waiting to hear what they need to do to comply with the First Minister’s statement on Tuesday.

“She was right to say earlier that the situation will have a massive impact on businesses. However, businesses have told us that they heard earlier this week from Scottish Government officials who told them that new rules could come into effect on Saturday.

“They were then told that it could be Monday, then they were told to prepare for 5 pm on Friday. Remember—that was coming from Scottish Government officials. Can the First Minister give the answer that her officials seem to be unable to give, and tell us when the laws will commence?”

Ms Sturgeon was far from pleased at the way the debate was going which brought shouts of “move on, move on” from the increasing irritable members on the SNP benches.

When he did move on it was to another vexed question.

Douglas Ross: said  “Businesses have told us that they heard earlier this week from Scottish Government officials who told them that new rules could come into effect on Saturday.

“They were then told that it could be Monday, then they were told to prepare for 5 pm on Friday. Remember—that was coming from Scottish Government officials. Can the First Minister give the answer that her officials seem to be unable to give, and tell us when the laws will commence?”

Ms Sturgeon moved to clear up the confusion. She said: “On guidance and regulations, the regulations will come into effect at one minute past midnight tomorrow morning, Friday 17 December. In fact, high-level central guidance on the announcement that was made on Tuesday was published immediately after my statement on Tuesday. I said in Parliament then that more detailed guidance would follow this week.

“That guidance will be available online from today. In fact, I suspect that it will—because I cleared it just before coming here—go online during this First Minister’s question time. We have been engaging with business organisations throughout the week on the issues and the guidance for various sectors. This time is difficult for businesses—that is one of the things that I stressed in my earlier remarks.

“I will come back to the central point. We are now facing, two years into the pandemic, a variant of the virus that is spreading faster than anything that we have experienced so far. Omicron cases are doubling every two to three days in Scotland. In parts of the UK, the doubling time is currently less than two days. I expect that it will be the dominant strain in Scotland by tomorrow. It has a reproduction number that some assessments say is above 4.

“We do not have time to waste; we do not have time to waste when it comes to vaccination, and neither do we have time to waste in putting in place the protective measures that will help to slow omicron down.

“Lives are at risk, livelihoods are at risk and the NHS is at risk. That is why the Government has to speed up vaccination, but we also all have to come together to do what is required to slow down the spread of the variant.

“The UK Government has to step up and provide the financial support that businesses need.” today, because regulations come into force tomorrow. He immediately corrected that.”

Mr Ross persisted: “But when would the Scottish government come up with support for the hospitality sector?”

The First Minister, exasperated and animated, told the Tory leader: “For goodness’ sake! We have a virus raging around the country and we are trying to act at speed in order to protect people as much as possible, because that is our duty. Regardless of whether people across the chamber and the country agree or disagree with me, I hope that nobody doubts how seriously I and this Government take the duty to protect people and the country from the virus.

“What I think businesses want and need more than anything right now is the Chancellor of the Exchequer [Riishhi Sunak] at his desk, putting in place financial support schemes that will prevent them from going to the wall. The fact is that if we act right now, that has implications for businesses—they must be compensated. If we do not act, that will possibly have even bigger implications for businesses.

“I take my responsibilities very seriously. I hope to speak to the Prime Minister this afternoon, if he makes himself available, so that we can work together—as we did previously in the pandemic—to put in place support for businesses, and so that we can all make sure that we are doing everything that we can to protect human health and life.”

To cris of “shameless from te Tory benches, Mr Ross continued: “I am just trying to get some clarity. We also need clarity on something that I want to check. The BBC says that it has it in writing from the Scottish Government that the regulations behind the new protections for retail and hospitality would take effect from one minute past midnight on Saturday, but the First Minister has just said that it is one minute past midnight on Friday. Which is it?

“That was what the Scottish Government told the BBC on Tuesday. Has that changed? Why has that changed? Surely, with such big changes, the information should come not just in response to a question from the Opposition, but should be put out to businesses straight away, but that has not happened.

“The First Minister will also understand that businesses need a measure of good news. This week, she agreed to our demands for emergency cancellation compensation. However, businesses currently do not know when the funds are coming and how much money they will get.

“This is about people’s jobs. I am trying to ensure that the money that is made available gets to the businesses that need it. Will the First Minister simply guarantee that businesses will receive that £100 million of support before Christmas?”

The First Minister conceded: “We will get the £100 million—which we have managed to find from other budgets with great difficulty—as quickly as we can. When I last stood in the chamber, we had heard that the Treasury was going to give us additional money, as we know from many exchanges here.

“Douglas Ross seemed to think that that was a great wheeze—I will leave others to think whether we should focus on wheezes now. We now know that we are poorer after that Treasury announcement than we thought we were previously. We will get the money as quickly as possible—

“However, £100 million is not enough for those businesses, which is why we need the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister to do their jobs and to get proper financial support in place for businesses as quickly as possible.”

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