Nicola Sturgeon urged by adviser to consider English visitor quarantine for 'zero-Covid Scotland'

Simon Johnson
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, wearing a Tartan face mask during a visit to New Look at Ford Kinaird Retail Park in Edinburgh - PA
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Nicola Sturgeon should examine introducing quarantine for English visitors to Scotland if the number of coronavirus cases south of the Border rises, one of her most trusted advisers has said.

Prof Devi Sridhar, who has played a key role in helping Ms Sturgeon formulate her Covid-19 strategy, said Scotland was trying to eliminate the virus but England's strategy was to "reopen as soon as possible" despite having up to 6,000 new daily cases.

She predicted Scotland could eliminate coronavirus by the end of the summer if the decline in new cases continues. There were no more deaths reported in Scotland on Sunday, for the third day running.

This meant it would be "really straightforward" for Scotland to become Covid-free if it was an island like New Zealand, she said, but instead "we have to find the next best solution."

In particular, she advised "catching those cases through screening, through quarantine, through testing" and cited checks US states with low Covid-19 transmission have introduced for people from those with high rates.

Visitors from nine US states with "significant community spread" will soon have to quarantine for 14 days if they travel to New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, it was announced last week.

The policy will affect those travelling from Florida, Arizona and Texas, where more than 5,000 new cases were recorded in a single day last week.

But any such quarantine policy would likely face fierce opposition from the beleaguered Scottish tourism industry, for which English 'staycation' visitors are vital, businesses operating on both sides of the Border and Scots with family in England.

The Scottish Government said it would "continue to consider any measures that might be necessary to protect against the risk of imported cases of the virus."

Senior SNP sources said they could not rule out a quarantine system from England, but ministers were not planning to introduce one.

Instead, they said people living in areas of England subject to any "local lockdowns" after a surge in cases would be asked not to travel to Scotland.

Prof Sridhar, an Edinburgh University public health academic, is one of the most influential members of the Scottish Government's Covid-19 advisory group.

On Friday Ms Sturgeon said Scotland was edging towards "total elimination" of Covid-19 after no new deaths were recorded on a weekday for the first time since March.

Asked what she meant, Prof Sridhar told BBC Scotland's Sunday Politics programme "a zero Covid Scotland, which means there's no acceptable level of number of cases and they get driven down to become negligible so we get the economy going and society going."

She cited the strategy adopted in countries like New Zealand, where "you get rid of community transmission and you just keep in place checks for any imported cases coming in, which might set off chains of infection."

The academic said this was not the strategy being adopted in England, where she estimated there are between 5,000 and 6,000 new daily cases.  

Acknowledging the English strategy will not change before July 15, when Scottish hotels and tourist attractions reopen, she said: "The next best thing is to look across the world at Australia, Germany, even the United States.

"Look at the policies being put in place between states which have high incidence like Texas and Florida, and those with low incidence now like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and trying to find ways whether it's quarantine or other checks to make sure when there are clear differences in incidence, then you make sure you are catching those cases through screening, through quarantine, through testing."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "To allow us to move out of lockdown it is critical that we keep transmission of the virus as low as possible – and that includes transmission from high to low risk areas.

"We are, in common with countries across the world, having to take unprecedented steps to deal with the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic brings."