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Sturgeon and Drakeford demand tougher travel rules to stop Omicron spread

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NICOLA Sturgeon is demanding stronger travel restrictions across the four nations to tackling the pandemic amid the detection of cases of the Omicron variant in Scotland and England.

At an emergency press briefing today she revealed she and the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford had written to Boris Johnson urging him to go further in light of concerns about the new strain of the virus and to provide funding to help respond to the situation.

She said the incubation period was very often more than two days and it was her and Drakeford’s view that it would be “sensible on a precautionary basis” for “travel rules to be tightened further”.

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“He and I have written this morning a joint letter to the Prime Minister. We are proposing a tougher four-nations approach to travel restrictions that would see people arrive in the UK from overseas asked to self isolate for eight days.

“Under our proposal they would take a test on day eight of their arrival as on day two.”

The First Minister said she and Drakeford believe the measure would be more useful in identifying cases of this variant and help prevent further community transmission from imported cases. 

She said that “anything less than a four nations approach would be ineffective” and she hoped such an agreement would be reached. 

The First Minister added that she and Drakeford were calling for a Cobra meeting with each of the four UK nations invited to discuss the situation and what measures may need to be taken.

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In their letter to the Prime Minister, they called for tougher restrictions and confirmation of funding to respond to the situation.

The letter says: “The emergence of Omicron poses a potential threat to the UK. It is clear that the strain is already here and that it appears highly transmissible.

“We need to work collectively – and effectively – as Four Nations to take all reasonable steps to control the ingress of the virus to the country and then to limit its spread.

“We are clear that a four-nations approach to issues such as border restrictions is the most effective approach. This requires that a meeting of the Cobra committee be held as soon as possible.”

Six case of Omicron – which may be more transmissable than Delta – have been detected to date in Scotland, two in the Greater Glasgow area and four in Lanarkshire.

She said that while the variant had been detected in the country it was “really important” that measures were taken to prevent cases of Omicron being seeded here from elsewhere.

Earlier Deputy First Minister John Swinney said that some of the cases identified have no travel history, which suggests there is a degree of community transmission.

Public Health Scotland and local health protection teams are working together and “enhanced” contact tracing is being undertaken to establish the origin of the virus and any individuals the people have come into contact with in recent weeks.

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All close contacts of suspected Omicron cases will be advised to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “This will be a worrying time for the six people now identified as having the new variant. All will receive expert help and support and Public Health Scotland will undertake enhanced contact tracing in all cases.

“This will help establish the origin of the virus and any further individuals they have come into contact with in recent weeks.

“There is still much to learn about the Omicron variant. Questions remain about its severity, transmissibility and response to treatments or vaccines and scientists are working at pace to provide additional information.

“Until more is known we must be cautious and do everything we can to minimise the risk of spreading infection.”

Swinney said there is travel history on some but not all of the cases, which opens up “further challenges”.

He told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “We obviously have some travel history on some of the cases, I don’t have all of that detail available to me at this stage, but on some of the cases we are aware that there is no travel history involved on some of the cases.

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“So what that tells us is that there must be a degree of community transmission of this particular strain of the virus in the absence of direct travel connection for some of the cases in the southern African area.

“So that obviously opens up further challenges for us in terms of interrupting the spread of this particular strain of the virus and that will be the focus of the contact tracing operation that is under way already.”

The first two cases in the UK – in Nottingham and Essex – were announced on Saturday, while a third Omicron case was detected in the UK on Sunday in a person with travel links to southern Africa.

The UK will convene an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers today to discuss the variant first detected in South Africa amid concerns it could spread rapidly and partially evade existing jabs.

Passengers arriving in the UK from 4am on Tuesday will be required to take a PCR test by the end of their second day from entry and isolate until they receive a negative test, while 10 southern African nations have been added to the red travel list.

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