Nicola Sturgeon asks Scots to work from home until mid-January

‘I cannot stress enough how much difference we think this could make’, says first minister

Adam Forrest
Tuesday 07 December 2021 15:40
<p>First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Jane Barlow/PA)</p>

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Jane Barlow/PA)

Nicola Sturgeon has asked people across Scotland to work from home until the middle of January in bid to stem the “potentially rapid rise” of the Covid omicron variant.

Going further than Boris Johnson – who has been reluctant to bring back remote working guidance in England – the first minister asked Scotland’s employers to make sure staff that can work from home do so until mid-January 2022.

“If you had staff working from home at the start of the pandemic, please now do so again,” said Sturgeon on Tuesday. “We’re asking you do this from now until the middle of January when we will review this advice.”

The SNP leader added: “I know how difficult this is, but I cannot stress enough how much difference we think this could make in helping step transmission and avoiding the need for even more onerous measures.”

In a direct plea to workers, Ms Sturgeon said: “If you were working at home at the start of the pandemic, please do so again for the next few weeks. None of this is what any of us want … but it is the best way of slowing the spread of the virus.”

Scotland’s first minister said current restrictions – including travel curbs and mandatory wearing masks in indoor places – would stay in place.

Cases of the omicron variant in Scotland have increased by 28 to a total of 99, Ms Sturgeon said, with around four per cent of Covid cases north of the border likely to be the new omicron variant.

She also told the Scottish parliament that said cases of the variant appeared to be doubling every two to three days north of the border.

The first minister said Scotland should expect “a potentially rapid rise [of omicron] in the days ahead”, and announced that she would now review measures on a daily rather than a weekly basis.

It comes as some of the UK’s top scientific advisers have recommended that Mr Johnson’s government should consider bringing back work from home guidance in England to combat the spread of omicron.

Minutes from the latest Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meeting – published on Friday – show that the experts believe remote working is a “highly relevant” way to reduce transmission of the new variant.

And Prof Adam Finn, a member of the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has said “the more people can work from home now the better”.

Mr Johnson has told ministers that the Omicron variant of coronavirus appears to be “more transmissible” than Delta when he updated his Cabinet on the latest situation on Tuesday morning.

But Downing Street has been reluctant to bring in its so-called plan B – which includes advice to return to remote working and the use of vaccine certification in venues – over the Christmas period.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman said so-called plan B measures could be deployed in England if needed. “We are able to move relatively quickly,” he said.

Ms Sturgeon said further measures such as an extension to vaccine passports could not be ruled out north of the border. Contact tracing will be enhanced in Scotland, with household contacts of close contacts of positive cases told to test and isolate.

She also urged Scots to do regular lateral flow testing – and revealed she takes a test every day before work.

“I am not excluding myself from this,” she told MSPs. “I am currently doing a test every morning before coming to work and I will do a test on any occasion I mix with others over the festive period. I will ask anyone visiting my home over Christmas to do likewise.”

The UK Health Security Agency said a further 101 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant have been reported on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases across the UK to 437.

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