Progress in tackling coronavirus in the UK must not be put in jeopardy with “too lax a position on international travel”, Nicola Sturgeon has insisted.
The Scottish First Minister said opening up overseas travel brought a risk of importing new strains of the virus into the UK – which vaccines may be less effective against.
With Scotland requiring all travellers arriving in the country from overseas to self-isolate in a quarantine hotel, Ms Sturgeon said her Government was continuing to press the UK to adopt the same approach.
Her comments came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to travel to India, where a new variant of coronavirus has been identified.
Ms Sturgeon, speaking on the Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme on Sky News, said the India strain was currently classed as a “variant of interest, rather than a variant of concern”.
But she said: “I think the thing we have got to recognise about Covid is that it is mutating and we are seeing new variants appear in different parts of the world.
“We don’t know where the variants of real concern are going to come from, which is why an approach to travel that tries to categorise risk, with some countries categorised as red-list countries and other countries deemed to be safer, I think poses a risk.
“Because none of us know right now where the next variant that might be really problematic is going to occur.”
The Scottish First Minister insisted: “We have got to be very careful as we continue to suppress things at home, we don’t allow it to be reseeded with more dangerous variants from elsewhere.”
She told how last summer Scotland had “almost eliminated the strains that were circulating” but conceded that “we probably opened up international travel too quickly, so we allowed the virus to reseed into our domestic population”.
Ms Sturgeon added: “I think it is important we try as hard as we can to avoid that in the weeks and months ahead.”
She accepted that such an approach is “really difficult for the aviation sector, airports, tourism” – saying theses businesses need to be supported.
But she was clear: “The big risk that we face, not just in Scotland but across the UK right now is the importation of new variants of the virus, variants that might be faster spreading, that might be more severe and crucially variants that might undermine the efficacy of the vaccine.
“So we’ve got to be very careful about that.
“Which is why I think one of the restrictions we’re all going to have to live with for longer is a restriction on international travel.
“In Scotland we insist that people quarantine in managed isolation wherever in the world they come from if they come directly into Scotland, and we continue to try to persuade the UK Government to take a similar approach.
“Because we mustn’t allow the progress we are making domestically to be undermined by too lax a position on international travel.
“It is very difficult for the sector and it is important governments support it as we try to continue to protect ourselves against the virus.”