NICOLA Sturgeon has warned legal curbs may need to be put on socialising and travel after mass breaches of the revised guidance on the first weekend of the lockdown easing.
The First Minister said yesterday she “would not hesitate” to legislate to keep outdoor meetings below eight and ban travel to within five miles from someone’s home to suppress the spread of coronavirus, following a surge in rule breaking on Saturday and Sunday.
She said Police Scotland reported a five-fold increase in the number of groups officers were forced to disperse, to 797 on Saturday alone, and that there were also examples of people driving well beyond the recommended five-mile limit from home.
A 70% rise in road journeys was also a “cause of concern”, with the A82 at Loch Lomond and Glen Coe seeing a three-fold increase in traffic.
The First Minister said there had also been examples of people staying overnight in tents, caravans and motor homes, despite her plea to stay at home as much as possible.
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She said: “It’s very hard to see how that could have been caused by local residents or people travelling to see loved ones. If there is continued evidence of even a minority not abiding by those guidelines, if people … are meeting in large groups, we will have to put those guidelines into law.
“I won’t hesitate to do that if I think it’s necessary.”
She said people disregarding the guidelines were putting their open health at risk, as well as the health of the country.
However, she said that, for now, she would appeal to people’s better judgment.
The First Minister also revealed at the briefing that for the first time a member of her own close personal circle had fallen ill with Covid-19.
“Until last weekend I didn’t know anyone personally within my family, friend or close colleague network, to the best of my knowledge, who had had this virus in a significant way, that changed this weekend,” she said.
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“Why am I telling you that? That is because it is still there, even with these numbers down there are still people being tested positive for this virus.
“It is still there, it is ready to pounce across all these bridges that we offer it.
“If we want to stop that we must, must, must stick to these guidelines.”
She also warned her Government may need more borrowing powers to continue the job retention scheme if a further lockdown is required in Scotland.
The First Minister said she hoped the Chancellor would be “flexible” with his approach to the furlough scheme if there was a new spike in coronavirus cases.
While public health is a devolved matter, the UK Government is responsible for the coronavirus job retention scheme, which has been used to support 8.5 million jobs around the UK.
Responding to a question whether the Scottish Government’s “hands were tied”, she said: “I think most people would think it’s unacceptable that – to use your language, because it’s not my language – that Scotland’s hands were tied when it came to fighting a pandemic and taking whatever action was required to be taken to suppress the virus.”
If Scotland needed a further lockdown, she said, the Chancellor could be “flexible” in his approach to retaining the scheme around the UK.
“If he didn’t want to extend the financial support to allow that to happen then the alternative is to transfer the power to the Scottish Government to borrow more so that we can do that ourselves,” she said.
“The basic fundamental point here, and I think people across the political spectrum and with no interest in politics whatsoever could understand, is that we cannot find ourselves, being in a position for financial or economic reasons where we’re unable to take action necessary to suppress a potentially deadly virus.”