Covid Scotland: 'Don't pull the rug from underneath us', Yousaf warns ahead of likely Covid-19 policy divergence from England

Scotland is set to diverge again in its handling of Covid-19 at the end of February with self-isolation requirements set to stay for the foreseeable future, the health secretary has indicated.

It comes as Humza Yousaf pleaded with the UK Government not to “pull the rug from underneath us” around Covid-19 measures, in particular free universal testing for the virus.

The Prime Minister told the House of Commons on Wednesday that he plans to end all remaining restrictions at the end of February, including self-isolation requirements.

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Scottish Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf has said Scotland is likely to diverge heavily from the UK Government on Covid-19 measures.
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This will see people who test positive for Covid-19 in England free to decide whether to isolate and for how long, if at all.

The publication of this plan for living with Covid will be published on February 21, the day before the Scottish Government is set to publish a fresh version of its ‘strategic framework’ for how it deals with Covid-19.

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Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Show, the health secretary indicated this was likely to be a moment of major divergence with the UK Government.

Mr Yousaf said the Government had not had sight of the public health advice supporting the Prime Minister’s announcement, despite having asked to see it, adding he would like to hear from England’s chief medical officer [CMO] Chris Whitty on the issue.

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He said Scotland was on an “absolutely improving journey”, but Scottish advice was worried about another, potentially more severe Covid-19 variant replacing Omicron and that impacting how the Government responded to the changing pandemic.

Indicating some measures including self-isolation are likely to stay in Scotland, the health secretary said: “Last week, we had a four-nations call with all the four nations, including the UK Government, and what we asked was and tasked our four CMOs to work together to give each of the home nations advice on the timing and the phasing of easing protective measures.

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"Let me give you an example, the UK Government announced on Wednesday the removal of all requirements to self-isolate.

"Now our public health advice would be that it’s too early to do that at the end of February. We’ve got thousands cases of Omicron at the moment. Do we really think it would be wise for somebody who is positive with Covid and is a social care worker to go work in a care home?

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“I think most people watching this would say that doesn’t sound sensible at all."

The health secretary also urged the UK Government not to undermine the Scottish Government’s approach to Covid-19 and warned it not to “force our hands”.

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Mr Yousaf said the Scottish Government’s new strategic framework would focus more on admissions to hospital and intensive care, but said there would not be “automatic triggers” for when the pandemic would be considered over, stating the “virus does not work in that way”.

He said the document would be a clear plan for indicating when the pandemic will be considered ‘over’.

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However, Mr Yousaf warned the UK Government against removing the universal testing programme, which he said could “pull the rug from underneath” the Scottish Government.

The SNP minister said: “The UK Government has every right to make decisions for people in England, but what they can’t do and shouldn’t do is force our hand when it comes to our response to Omicron.

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“Testing is a case in point. I don’t know the detail of what the UK Government is going to announce, but if they going to, for example, withdraw the universal offer for testing, which I don’t think they should do at the end of February, if they do that then of course tests are procured on a four-nations basis and that could effectively force our hand to respond in a way that we don’t want to do at this immediate time.

"If England and the UK Government are going to decide that they are no longer going to purchase on a four-nations basis, we’d have to set up our own procurement, we’d have to find a way of paying for those tests if we were going to continue.”

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The UK Government did not rule out the possibility of free Covid-19 ending and instead encouraged people to continue taking advantage of lateral flow tests.

A spokesperson said: “Everyone can continue to get free tests and we are continuing to encourage people to use rapid tests when they need them.

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"Record numbers of tests are being delivered to pharmacies, homes and those who need them.

"We have built up a huge testing capacity, with over 450 million tests now completed and around 2 billion LFD tests distributed across the UK.

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“Testing continues to play an important role in helping people live their day to day lives, keep businesses running and keep young people in school.”

The warnings about the future of universal testing come as SNP plans to make some Covid-19 emergency powers permanent were criticised by the legal profession.

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Several powers, including the ability to close schools due to public health concerns, are set to be made permanent by the Scottish Government, which ministers have said would bring Holyrood into line with powers held in England and Wales.

However, the Law Society of Scotland warned the move could lead to “misuse” of the powers.

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The society said: “These provisions have the potential to result in very significant restrictions on liberty being imposed by regulation, with reduced opportunities for parliamentary oversight and scrutiny.

"This creates a risk of misuse, or of powers being used in error.”

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The comments come as Scotland recorded 5,301 new cases of Covid-19 on Sunday, with no new deaths recorded with most register offices closed on weekends.

In total, 885 people were in hospital on Saturday with recently confirmed Covid-19, of which 20 were in intensive care.

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A total of 4,427,052 people have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, 4,142,683 have received their second dose, and 3,349,054 have received a third dose or booster.

Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

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