Nicola Sturgeon tells Scots to ‘stay at home’ and demands Boris Johnson brings back business support

FM wants firms to get ‘scale of financial support’ available earlier in pandemic

Adam Forrest
Thursday 16 December 2021 13:36
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Nicola Sturgeon tells Scots to ‘stay at home’ and demands return of support for businesses

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has urged Scots to “stay at home” for now as she strengthened her warning about the rise of the omicron variant.

Ms Sturgeon urged people to “reduce your contact” with others households as she warned that omicron is likely to be the dominant strain of Covid in Scotland from tomorrow.

“For now, please stay at home much more than you normally would, and as much as is feasible,” the SNP leader said during her statement in the Scottish parliament on Thursday.

Although Ms Sturgeon stressed she was not introducing legal rules at this stage, she warned that any socialising should be “vital enough to you to justify that risk [of getting Covid]”.

The first minister added: “I suspect what is most important to most of us over the next couple of weeks is having time with our families at Christmas. Every interaction we have before then increases the risk of us getting Covid and so possibly losing that.”

Ms Sturgeon called on Boris Johnson to bring back extra support for businesses hit by cancellations – saying she “acutely aware” of the impact of her advice for people to limit social interaction.

She has already urged Scots to mix with only two other households, at home or in indoor public places, on either side of the festive holiday.

Although the first minister did not specifically ask for the return of furlough payments, she said businesses now needed the “scale of financial support” that was available earlier in the pandemic.

Ms Sturgeon said she had written to Mr Johnson and asked to speak with him today to discuss extra financial support. “We need the UK government to act urgently and in the same way some other countries are already doing,” she said.

“We must not sleepwalk into an emergency that for both health and business will be much greater as a result of inaction than it will be if we act firmly and strongly now,” Ms Sturgeon added.

The first minister said she was “profoundly concerned” by omicron which is “running faster than even the fastest rollout of vaccines” after 5,951 coronavirus cases were reported in Scotland on Wednesday – 45.4 per cent of which were likely to be the new variant.

It comes as Labour said chancellor Rishi Sunak should “get himself on a flight back and get a grip on the situation” after it emerged that he is currently in California on a four-day official trip.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting urged Mr Sunak to “hammer out a deal to help hospitality” as business leaders expressed concerns about cancelled events. The chancellor is set to speak to business leaders remotely, from the US, later on Thursday.

British Chambers of Commerce president Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith said chief medical office Prof Chris Whitty’s plea to “prioritise” the gatherings which matter to them “will almost certainly have an enormous impact for businesses”.

Trade unions are also calling for immediate support for workers in the hospitality and entertainment industries.

MPs on the cross-party Treasury Committee have also asked Mr Sunak whether he will provide additional support to businesses. Tory MP Mel Stride, chair of the committee, said it was important the government “sets out its thinking on the targeted support that it might be able to bring forward”.

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