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Scotland braced for new Covid restrictions that could cost its economy millions

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What curbs could return? 

VACCINE PASSPORTS: Plans to extend vaccine passports to pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres were abandoned last month following a major backlash – but could now be revived.  

SOCIALISING LIMITS: While a ban on entering other people’s homes is unlikely right away, Miss Sturgeon may seek to impose new limits on how many people can meet indoors. Earlier rules allowed up to six people from two households.

HOSPITALITY: Industry insiders fear more restrictions on the way, such as limits on gathering numbers, new rules on opening hours, physical distancing and collection of customer contact details.

HOME WORKING: Ms Sturgeon has already urged employers to allow home working where possible, but this is only currently guidance. She may look to make it compulsory, as was the case earlier in the pandemic.

FACE MASKS: They are already mandatory in shops, public transport and other indoor public places in Scotland but it is possible this could be extended to more places, such as outdoor events or workplaces.

SCHOOLS: Unions are pushing for all schools in Scotland to close early for the Christmas holidays, at the end of this week. 

HEALTH AND CARE: With efforts to prioritise the booster rollout over the next fortnight, there is a renewed threat to non-urgent elective treatments. Care home visiting may also be limited to fewer people.

CHRISTMAS: Ministers are likely to be keen to avoid new restrictions like a cap on people who can attend Christmas dinner, but they are unlikely to be ruled out.

TRAVEL AND TOURISM: It is unlikely that local travel bans or curbs on cross-UK travel will return at this stage, but they may do so in the future if the NHS struggles. 

LOCKDOWN: Ms Sturgeon is not expected to announce a full national lockdown or a ‘circuit breaker’. But she is likely to warn that nothing can be ruled out in the future if action isn’t taken immediately.

 

Nicola Sturgeon is expected to unveil a new wave of Covid restrictions for Scotland today that could cost its economy more than a billion pounds in the run up to Christmas.

The First Minister will announce this afternoon whether further measures are required in response to the growing outbreak of the Omicron variant.

The return of social distancing and limits on groups meeting indoors are among ideas being floated a day after the SNP health secretary Humza Yousaf said that tighter rules were ‘inevitable’.  

Schools are expected to stay open and there are question marks over whether Scotland’s vaccine passport scheme will be tightened beyond the restrictions on nightclub and large venues currently in place.

Any changes – which could well be followed by similar moves in Wales – will further increase the pressure on Boris Johnson in England, with London, like Scotland, an omicron hotspot. 

Calls have been made for the introduction of further restrictions in the capital, with the super mutant variant now responsible for half of cases.

The city is still the region of England with the fastest-growing Covid outbreak, according to Government data, with cases growing by up to 48 per cent a week in the worst-hit boroughs.

NHS leaders said No10 needs to be prepared to introduce stricter curbs than the current Plan B if Omicron is on the brink of overwhelming the NHS.

Mr Johnson warned his Cabinet this morning that a ‘huge spike’ of Omicron is coming, according to Downing Street. 

But the Prime Minister already faces a Tory rebellion over introducing mandatory face masks and vaccine passports for some venues, measures already in place in Scotland.

Scores of Conservatives have vowed to defy the government whip when new regulations rubber-stamping Covid passes for nightclubs and major events, mandatory vaccination for health staff, and mask use come before the Commons.

Dominic Raab risked inflaming the tensions in interviews this morning as he dismissed ‘overstated’ criticism about the measures to combat the Omicron strain. 

But the scale of the rebellion means the embattled PM will almost certainly have to rely on Labour to get the measures through – despite in theory having an 80-strong Commons majority. Several ministerial aides are threatening to quit rather than back the government.

Ministers are said to be examining plans for a further round of restrictions in England that would push it closer towards a lockdown and are sure to watch Ms Sturgeon’s announcement with interest and trepidation.

Meanwhile Britain’s booster drive to beat the Omicron super-variant has been mired in chaos after more than 4.4million attempts were made to book top-up shots on the NHS website and furious GPs warned they had run out of doses.

Health chiefs said 545,000 appointments were secured by 8pm last night, even after the website crashed because so many people logged on. This morning Britons were stuck in up to an hour long queues.

But GPs complained they would not have enough jabs for everyone after being given until 9am to order stocks to meet Boris Johnson’s December 31 ‘boosted or bust’ deadline. 

It came as:

  • The UK’s booster drive to beat the Omicron super-variant was mired in chaos yet again, with desperate Brits left queuing for three hours and furious GPs warning they had already run out of doses.  
  • NHS bosses ordered hospitals to discharge all healthy patients off wards and into care homes and even hotels to handle a predicted Omicron surge.
  • Boris Johnson faced demands to urgently clarify the situation around Britain’s first Omicron death and 10 hospitalisations after warnings that the announcements may have sparked unnecessary panic. 
The First Minister will announce this afternoon whether further measures are required in response to the growing outbreak of the Omicron variant.

The First Minister will announce this afternoon whether further measures are required in response to the growing outbreak of the Omicron variant.

Any move could put pressure on Boris Johnson in England, where he faces a Tory rebellion over introducing mandatory face masks and vaccine passports for some venues, measures already in place in Scotland.

Any move could put pressure on Boris Johnson in England, where he faces a Tory rebellion over introducing mandatory face masks and vaccine passports for some venues, measures already in place in Scotland.

It comes a day after the SNP health secretary Humza Yousaf said that tighter rules were 'inevitable'.

It comes a day after the SNP health secretary Humza Yousaf said that tighter rules were ‘inevitable’.

Jab chaos saw 4.4m attempts to book a slot but 545,000 get one 

Britain’s booster drive to beat the Omicron super-variant has been mired in chaos after more than 4.4million attempts were made to book top-up shots on the NHS website and furious GPs warned they had run out of doses.

Health chiefs said 545,000 appointments were secured by 8pm last night, even after the website crashed because so many people logged on. This morning Britons were stuck in up to an hour long queues.

But GPs complained they would not have enough jabs for everyone after being given until 9am to order stocks to meet Boris Johnson’s December 31 ‘boosted or bust’ deadline.

Hundreds of Britons were again seen queuing outside jabbing centres with lines forming at least 30 minutes before they opened. Yesterday clinics in London had up to five-hour waits.

The fallout follows a chaotic 24 hours of Government messaging. Addressing MPs about the threat of Omicron yesterday, Sajid Javid told MPs up to 200,000 Britons were now getting infected with Covid every day, sparking confusion as to whether he meant the figure was solely for the variant or the virus overall.

Department of Health sources later told The Telegraph that it was for Omicron but experts have questioned the source of the figure and officials have yet to respond to MailOnline and clarify the situation.

Further chaos ensued today as Dominic Raab wrongly claimed 250 Britons have already been hospitalised with Covid, before back-tracking to say the correct toll was ten.

Ministers were yesterday accused of causing ‘unnecessary alarm’ for confirming the country’s first Omicron death without offering any more details about the patient’s age, vaccination status or whether the virus was responsible for killing them.

 

Scottish Tories have demanded a ‘cancellation compensation’ scheme be set up if hospitality venues like pubs and restaurants face fresh curbs at their busiest time of the year.

Any return of social distancing or restrictions on the number of people who can gather together indoors will dramatically reduce the number of customers they can fit in legally. 

Leon Thompson, executive director of industry body UKHospitality Scotland, said businesses were already taking a massive hit due to existing rules. 

‘I have members quoting rates of cancellation of 30 to 100 per cent and they’re still coming in for events and gatherings due to take place in the coming days,’ he said.

‘This is devastating for businesses that need the income to keep going and to see them through the winter. 

‘The industry was initially looking at multi-million-pound losses but over the weekend that has become greater and taking in the supply chain we’re now looking at the losses rising to £1billion.’   

Shadow finance secretary Liz Smith said: ‘Scottish jobs will be at risk if small businesses lose out on thousands of pounds of vital revenue that they were expecting to receive.

‘This latest setback in the Covid situation is a bitter blow to businesses at one of their busiest times of the year. They need more support from the SNP, who so far seem to be trying to pass the buck.

‘Unlike small businesses, the SNP Government does not have a cash flow issue. There is money available right now in their accounts to establish an emergency cancellation compensation fund to protect jobs.

The First Minister is due to make a statement at Holyrood at 2pm, setting out any new measures as well as updating the Scottish Parliament on the booster vaccination programme. 

And speaking in advance of the Holyrood statement, Ms Sturgeon cautioned that there may be ‘targeted and proportionate’ measures introduced as a trade-off for allowing families to meet at Christmas. 

She said: ‘We need to try to protect peoples’ ability to spend Christmas with their families, and I am personally hoping for a more normal Christmas than last year on behalf of everybody across the country.

‘But we need to balance that with the need to keep people as safe as possible in the run up to, and throughout, the winter and into 2022.

‘With Omicron, the virus has mutated and is now more transmissible than anything we have seen before – our estimation is that it will be the dominant strain in Scotland at some point this week.

‘We have to think of this as a race between vaccination and a virus that has just learned to run faster, so we are challenging ourselves to take steps to speed up getting booster jabs into peoples’ arms while considering what we can do to try to slow down the spread of the virus.

Boris faces 70-strong Tory revolt over vaccine passports

Boris Johnson is facing a 70-strong Tory revolt over his ‘Nazi-style’ Covid measures in crunch votes today as furious MPs branded them a ‘softening up exercise’ for harsher lockdown.

Scores of Conservatives have vowed to defy the government whip when new regulations rubber-stamping Covid passes for nightclubs and major events, mandatory vaccination for health staff, and mask use come before the Commons.

Dominic Raab risked inflaming the tensions in interviews this morning as he dismissed ‘overstated’ criticism about the measures to combat the Omicron strain. Mr Raab, whose Jewish father fled Czechoslovakia in 1938, dismissed backbencher Marcus Fysh’s comparison between Covid passes and the oppressive Hitler regime as ‘crass’ and ‘inappropriate’.

But the scale of the rebellion means the embattled PM will almost certainly have to rely on Labour to get the measures through – despite in theory having an 80-strong Commons majority. Several ministerial aides are threatening to quit rather than back the government.

Tories are also gearing up for an even bigger battle amid claims ministers are preparing to go further by shutting hospitality within weeks if the Omicron strain continues to run rampant.

Whitehall officials have drawn up proposals to limit the number of people allowed in pubs and restaurants, according to The Sun. There are also contingency plans to bring back furlough and support for businesses if tougher restrictions are needed.

Covid passes are the main focus of Tory rebels today, with anger that they are ‘illogical’ and an infringement of civil liberties. Sajid Javid said yesterday that in future booster jabs will be needed to be ‘fully vaccinated’ for the purposes of the passes.

There is also broad opposition to mandatory vaccination for NHS and care staff, and unhappiness at the economic impact of a return of the working from home guidance on town and city centre businesses at a crucial time of the year if people again stay away from their offices.

The Plan B measures are not in danger of failing because Sir Keir Starmer has ordered Labour MPs to support them.

But the Commons mutiny could wipe out Mr Johnson’s majority and eclipse his biggest revolt yet, when 54 Tories voted against the tier system last December. Some rebels believe it could be bigger than the 80-strong revolt that forced David Cameron to promise the EU referendum.

 

‘The most important step we can all take, alongside regular testing, remains to get vaccinated.

‘I know many have already booked their booster appointments, but I am aware others will have found it more difficult to get an appointment. Please keep trying – every effort is being made to build capacity, and more appointments are being created each day.

‘We are working round the clock with health boards to look at all options on how we could speed up vaccination – options including bringing in more vaccinators, supporting more hours at vaccination centres, bringing more facilities on stream, and offers of military support from the UK Government.

‘I am acutely aware of the impact this crisis has had on peoples’ lives already, and so any steps that need to be taken to slow the spread will be as targeted and proportionate as possible. Cabinet will consider the options available on Tuesday, after which I will set out more detail to Parliament.’

Scotland recorded 26 new cases of the Omicron variant on Monday, taking the overall number to 186, while a further 3,756 Covid-19 cases were confirmed.

Addressing MSPs last week, Ms Sturgeon stressed it was ‘important to keep the need for any additional protections under daily review’ because of Omicron which ‘may be significantly more transmissible than anything before’.

The First Minister said: ‘I do really hope we can avoid any further measures.

‘I cannot guarantee this however, I don’t think any responsible person in my position could ever guarantee this at this stage.’

She added it was ‘important to remain open to any proportionate measures’, such as a possible extension of vaccine passports.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Yousaf told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme: ‘I think it’s inevitable that we will announce additional, protective measures.’

Ahead of the First Minister’s coronavirus statement to Holyrood, the Scottish Conservatives reiterated calls for mass vaccination centres.

Party leader Douglas Ross said: ‘For more than a month, the Scottish Conservatives have been calling for the reopening of mass vaccination centres to speed up the vaccine booster rollout.’

Mr Ross said speeding up the booster jag rollout is ‘likely to be the crucial difference between avoiding or introducing stricter restrictions’, and added: ‘The rapid rollout of mass vaccine centres and more drop-in clinics is now a necessity.

‘It is mission critical that the booster jag programme accelerates to win the race between the vaccine and the virus.’

Scottish Labour’s health and Covid recovery spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said: ‘It’s clear we are in the most fragile position we’ve been in for months.

‘We need to take the action needed now to save lives, protect livelihoods, and keep restrictions to a minimum this Christmas.

‘This means ramping up the booster programme urgently to meet our new target, equipping Test and Protect to deal with the expected tsunami of cases we are facing, and supporting hard-hit businesses through this challenging time. 

Ahead of the First Minister's coronavirus statement to Holyrood, the Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross reiterated calls for mass vaccination centres

Ahead of the First Minister’s coronavirus statement to Holyrood, the Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross reiterated calls for mass vaccination centres

‘We can’t shy away from difficult decisions if they are necessary – but all rules must be clear, consistent, and firmly rooted in the evidence.’

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: ‘After pestering the Health Secretary for months we finally have an ambitious target for ramping up booster vaccines, but we also need to see frontline NHS staff given the additional resources they need, guarantees of financial protections for small businesses, particularly in hospitality, and measures to ensure that everyone who needs it can access mental health support during these difficult times.’

He also warned against any extension of Scotland’s vaccine passport scheme to cover more venues, claiming they ‘give people a potentially fatal false confidence’.

Scots firms buckle under pressure of Covid restrictions 

Restaurants, hotels and pubs have been inundated with cancellations, with people heeding advice to drop plans for office parties or nights out with friends and family after the First Minister warned such gatherings could become super-spreader events.

One restaurant in Edinburgh fielded 500 cancellations within 24 hours and a hotel in Dunfermline, Fife, reported 400 in 12 hours.

A hotel in Aberdeen had taken 22 deliveries from suppliers the day before the announcement in anticipation of a bumper Christmas, and still has the bill to pay despite having since had 1,000 cancellations.

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said the advice had sent ‘a shockwave of anxiety and turbulence’ through Scotland’s tourism community.

He added: ‘Within hours, we had received numerous messages, emails and calls from hotels, accommodation providers, restaurants and events venues with notification of mass cancellation of bookings representing a colossal loss of revenue, not just solely attributed to Christmas party night cancellations.

‘One hotelier told me that business to the value of £250,000 for the remainder of this month has been wiped out. This isn’t unusual, it’s widespread. It’s happening to every tourism business right now.

‘There’s little opportunity for them to recover losses at that level. This also extends to the supply chain.

‘The ripples of the impact of recent announcements and subsequent speculation reach far and wide and impact all within our industry and those who depend on it. Many are now worried about the future certainty of employment.

‘If an announcement of immediate financial support is not forthcoming within the next few days, the industry is staring straight into the face of a dangerously bleak few weeks and months.’

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said: ‘It’s been an absolute disaster for the whole sector. It’s basically shutting us down. Some businesses have lost 100 per cent of their Christmas party bookings. It’s now going to the point where it may not be viable for some of them to stay open.

 

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