Nicola Sturgeon defies calls from travel industry for clarity on 'air bridges'

The “green route” air bridges being introduced by the UK government to ensure people can travel abroad without being required to quarantine on their return, will not be “rubber stamped” by the Scottish Government, Nicola Sturgeon said today.

Nicola Sturgeon said she was not a First Minister who would just "rubber stamp" the decisions made by Boris Johnson.

The First Minister said while she “understood the impatience” among the public as well as airline and tourism industries, there was a “process of analysis and assessment” to be completed before air bridges to Scottish airports would be put in place.

Asked at the daily government briefing if she would release a list of green routes to enable people to feel confident in booking holidays abroad, she said she was not yet prepared to do that.

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Ms Sturgeon was pressed on the issue on the day Barrhead Travel announced redundancies and Unite the union warned of more than 300 job losses at Menzies Aviation at Glasgow and Edinburgh airports as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.

The UK government has already revealed a list of 59 countries with “air bridges” – a reciprocal agreement to allow tourists to travel without restrictions – allowing UK holidaymakers to visit countries with low coronavirus infection rates without having to quarantine for 14 days when they return. Similarly people in those countries can travel to the UK without having to quarantine on entry.

The list was drawn up using a “traffic light” system, with air bridges granted to countries in the “green” and “amber” sections, and was devised by scientists based on how countries are managing the Covid-19 pandemic.

Asked why the Scottish Government would not publish a list of the same “green routes” as set out by the UK government, Ms Sturgeon said: “We may do that. We think the green countries will be possible for us to align our position with, but there’s still a process of analysis and assessment that we have to complete, and when we do that we will make that decision.

“I understand the impatience here but we must take these decisions properly. If people want a First Minister who is just going to be a rubber stamp for decisions taken elsewhere, particularly where she has a concern those decisions may not be absolutely the right ones given the circumstances we face in Scotland, then that’s not going to be me. I wouldn't be doing my job properly.”

She added: “We need to weigh up the risks and benefits and come to a considered view overall, that's the duty I hold to every single person and even although airports and airlines express frustration with that, it's a duty I owe to them as well as I don’t think I’ll be doing anybody any favours if I take decisions I think in my gut are taking inordinate risks and sending us all backwards. I will take decisions in the most reasoned and considered way I can, whether they’re popular or not.”

Ms Sturgeon said she had heard “very loudly” representations from airports but had to “balance that with public health considerations.”

She added: “There is increasing volatility internationally in terms of levels of infection and as we get infection to ever lower levels in Scotland we have to think about different ways in which we can mitigate against the importation of the virus.

“I want people to be able to travel freely as quickly as possible, none of us wants to be in this position, but we have to do it safely. If you’re keen to have a holiday and have the wherewithal to do so, then consider a staycation.

“I want to see us move away from a situation where we have quarantine restrictions as soon as possible, but we have to guard against importing cases of the virus here. These are difficult decisions, not easy in any way, and all countries are having to grapple with it and it’s important we apply as much reason as possible.

“I understand the views of the airline industry, an industry which to its great credit is rigorous when it comes to safety in it’s own operations. But we mustn’t forget this consideration process is to contain a virus which has since March claimed the lives of more than 4000 people in Scotland.”

At the briefing the First Minister also revealed that travel restrictions have been lifted in Dumfries and Galloway after a coronavirus outbreak was brought under control. She said all chains of infection in the area have been identified and controlled.

The limited travel distance guidance in Annan and Gretna – restricting people to going no farther than five miles from their homes – will now be lifted to match the rest of the country, as well as allowing those in the area to visit care homes.

The First Minister thanked those affected by coronavirus in the area for their co-operation, including employers and the 23 contacts who were traced by officials for self-isolating, saying she is "very grateful" to all those involved.

Giving the latest Covid-19 figures, Ms Sturgeon said 2,489 patients have died in Scotland after testing positive for the virus, up one from Monday.A total of 18,302 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Scotland, up two.

The First Minister said she hopes Scotland will be able to continue its emergence from lockdown later this week following the three-weekly review of the measures.

She said: “We cannot, and this is a statement of the obvious, go on indefinitely with severe restrictions on our economy and on our way of life. That's why I hope we will be able to confirm on Thursday that we are moving to phase three of our route out of lockdown.

“However, it is also why we are and must continue to be determined to ensure that our emergence from lockdown is both safe and sustainable.”

She pointed to a number of areas where lockdown measures have been reimposed by Governments in Australia, Spain and Serbia.

The First Minister also addressed the financial statement to be made on Wednesday by Chancellor Rishi Sunak. She reiterated the Scottish Government position, including calling for an £80 billion recovery package, a jobs guarantee and more powers for the Scottish Parliament on borrowing and other financial matters.

She said: “We believe that the UK’s programme should tackle inequality, support jobs and have a strong focus on investment in low carbon and digital infrastructure. It's worth stressing again that the Scottish Government has on several occasions welcomed policies adopted by the Treasury during this pandemic – for example, the job retention scheme and this week's support for the culture sector.

“We hope that we will be able to give a welcome to tomorrow's statement as well but for that to happen the scale of the policies put forward must meet the scale of the economic challenges that the UK faces and I very much hope that they will do.”

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