Covid cases abroad and vaccine passports to dictate when hotel quarantine policy will be lifted

Prevalence of Covid-19 in Europe and the rest of the world, alongside the potential introduction of a vaccine passport or certification scheme, will dictate when the Scottish Government’s strict rules around hotel quarantine will be lifted.

Transport secretary Michael Matheson said a number of factors would be taken into account when deciding when to remove the requirement to isolate for ten days in a hotel on arrival from international destinations.

Speaking at a meeting of Holyrood’s health and sport committee on Tuesday, the transport secretary said several factors would have to be taken into account before the policy was lifted.

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Mr Matheson said: “We don’t want to have managed isolation in place for any longer than it is absolutely needed.

Hotel quarantine might not be lifted until Covid cases reduce globally
Hotel quarantine might not be lifted until Covid cases reduce globally

"The trigger for ministers starting to move away from the use of managed isolation will be based upon the clinical advice we receive from our CMO [chief medical officer] and from our border health review group who consider these matters in detail.

"Part of it will be around the rollout of our own vaccination programme, our understanding of the protection that the vaccine provides to the transmissability of the virus and its effectiveness against the new variants of concern.

"Part of our opening up international travel will be around prevalence levels in other parts of the world, where they are with their vaccination programme and also … around the introduction of a vaccine certification programme.”

Mr Matheson said as of midnight on Monday, 254 people were in hotel quarantine in Scotland, with that number slowly rising over the past couple of weeks.

However, he said international travel was at an extremely low level and was lower than seen in January prior to the introduction of mandatory managed quarantine.

Issues are still being found with passengers arriving into Scotland who transited through red list countries or travelled from red list countries who arrived in England and got a domestic flight into Scotland.

Many of these people should have been picked up by the English system and taken into hotel quarantine on arrival into the UK, Mr Matheson said.

Other issues connected to international flights into Dublin and the border point in Cairnryan has seen passengers require to self-isolate on arrival into Scotland after travelling by ferry, the minister said.

Expressing frustration at the UK Government’s decision not to follow SAGE advice on managed isolation, Mr Matheson told the committee the Joint Bio-Security Centre’s recent review of the red list country approach to international travel has not been passed on to the devolved nations.

He said this would shed some light on the effectiveness of the policy, which restricts managed quarantine to a selection of countries rather than the Scottish policy of all international arrivals requiring to self-isolate.

The transport secretary said: “The JCBS have already carried out a review of the existing red list countries and submitted a report to the UK Government. However, to date the UK Government have withheld that report from us.”

Asked about the suggestion, raised by Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, of a 'green list’ system where countries are approved for exemption from mandatory quarantine, Mr Matheson said he was sympathetic to the idea.

However, he said SAGE had not been commissioned to look at the potential benefits of such a system.

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