Covid Scotland: 'SNP have lost control of the pandemic' claim amid calls for four week gap between vaccine doses ahead of Nicola Sturgeon update

Nicola Sturgeon is facing opposition calls to speed up the vaccination programme against official clinical advice to allow for the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions while also being urged to act cautiously by her potential coalition partners ahead of a crucial pandemic update on Tuesday.

The First Minister is expected to confirm the decision to move the whole of mainland Scotland to level zero on July 19 – the same day as the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ in England.

Such a move would see restrictions around hospitality capacity, weddings, and the number of people allowed into sporting and entertainment venues relax, ahead of a further reduction in the severity of restrictions planned for August 9.

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However on the eve of her latest statement to the Scottish Parliament, the SNP leader faced calls from opposition parties to speed up the vaccination programme against official advice and ensure Scotland’s progress is not delayed further.

Labour is calling for a four week gap between vaccine doses

Ms Sturgeon’s potential coalition partners – the Scottish Greens – warned against such a move, calling on the First Minister to avoid following in the footsteps of the UK Government and “throw caution into the wind”.

On Sunday, health secretary Humza Yousaf said it was time to be “cautious, not cavalier” when asked whether the planned relaxation would go ahead.

Ahead of her statement in Holyrood, Scottish Labour called on the First Minister to change the gap between doses of Covid-19 vaccines from eight weeks to four in order to meet World Health Organisation guidance.

The WHO’s official guidance around the Pfizer vaccine is that a second dose should be delivered within four weeks of the first dose, however advice from the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation states that an eight week gap provides better long-term protection.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will give the latest coronavirus update on Tuesday

Changing the delay to four weeks would be a further reduction from the initial 12 week gap the JCVI advised in January.

Speaking ahead of the First Minister’s statement to Holyrood tomorrow on the potential move to level zero across Scotland, Jackie Baillie accused the SNP of having “lost control” of the pandemic.

Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson and deputy leader said: “The SNP has lost control of the pandemic and our exit from lockdown hangs in the balance.

“We need immediate action that meets the scale of the crisis before us.

Members of the vaccination Team working at the coronavirus mass vaccine centre at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

“That’s why Scottish Labour is calling for the time between vaccine doses to be cut to four weeks, in line with the WHO’s advice, to speed up the vaccine rollout.”

Ms Baillie also called for the Test and Protect system to be improved and for “leadership” around long Covid.

She said: “We are also calling on the Government to get a grip of our failing Test and Protect system and instead of cutting corners and lowering standards, do all that they can to support the staff in their efforts.

“We also need to see leadership on long Covid if we are to avoid another health and economic crisis after the pandemic has passed.”

“Make no mistake, any delay to the easing of the restrictions will be the result of SNP inaction and failure.

“We are at a crucial moment in the pandemic – it’s about time we showed the urgency and ambition that we need.”

Speaking on Monday, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, said that there must be a “steady return to normality” and that the public should not be “punished” by SNP inaction.

He said: “For the past 16 months, the public have made huge sacrifices. People now expect a steady return to normality and that must be delivered.

“The SNP cannot stall Scotland’s progress any longer. We have to keep moving forward and that means moving Scotland to level zero next week.

“The public shouldn’t be punished for the SNP’s failures to boost the vaccine rollout pace and deliver a fully-functioning Test and Protect system.

“If Tuesday’s statement does not deliver a plan of action for tackling the virus and a clear timetable for exiting restrictions, Nicola Sturgeon risks losing public buy-in.

“People are fed up with the uncertainty and the SNP’s mixed messages. As I told the First Minister on Monday morning, this is a crunch moment for thousands of businesses who need certainty and support.”

However, Nicola Sturgeon’s potential coalition partners the Scottish Greens struck a more cautious note ahead of the statement, warning against a full-scale removal of restrictions.

With talks between the two parties over a potential cooperation agreement continuing over the summer recess, the party’s co-leader Lorna Slater urged Nicola Sturgeon to be cautious.

She said: “Scotland is still in the grip of the Covid-19 virus, with a high number of cases and pressure on our health services, so it is absolutely appropriate for parliament to be recalled.

“This is not a time to throw caution to the wind and accept widespread new infections, as the U.K. Government has irresponsibly done in England.

"We’ve seen in the Netherlands that removing all safety measures can lead to going back into lockdown, so the Scottish Government must follow clinical advice and WHO guidance to take a safer, more gradual approach until the vaccine programme is further on.

“We have particular concern for those who remain vulnerable even when vaccinated and for young people who may be asked to return to normal activity without being vaccinated, and it is vital for both those groups that we all remain vigilant and keep up good practice like face coverings and self-isolation.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister will set out the next steps to parliament on Tuesday, but we have repeatedly been clear that easing of restrictions is dependent on the situation with the virus – rather than committing to lifting curbs come what may, and regardless of the circumstances.

“While we hope we are in the process of emerging from the pandemic, and it is undoubtedly the case that our successful vaccination programme is helping to weaken the link between COVID cases and hospitalisation, case rates at the moment underline the fact that this virus is still with us – a pattern that is increasingly evident in other countries too.

“As has been our approach from the outset, we will continue to use evidence to ensure all our decisions are necessary and proportionate. All changes to legal restrictions will be scrutinised by parliament.

“We will continue to follow JCVI advice on the gap between first and second doses. The advice is clear an eight week gap is the best balance between high protection and rapid coverage. If the JCVI advises of changes in this respect we would, of course, give it consideration.”

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