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The Prime Minister and Chancellor must not “sleep walk into an emergency” caused by rapidly rising Omicron cases, Nicola Sturgeon said, as she demanded the UK Government step up and provide more financial support to businesses.
The First Minister said she had written to Boris Johnson “appealing to him to put the necessary support schemes in place”, adding that “such is the urgency” of the situation she had requested to talk to him directly later on Thursday.
Her comments came as she told the Scottish Parliament she was “profoundly concerned by the scale and the immediacy of the challenge” that the new strain of the virus poses.
Omicron is likely to be the dominant strain of coronavirus in Scotland from tomorrow, she advised – with 5,951 new coronavirus cases reported on Wednesday, of which almost half (45.4%) were said to be likely to be the new variant.
Earlier this week, the First Minister issued guidance to people to reduce their social interactions, calling for any meet-ups to be restricted to a maximum of three households.
Speaking at the start of First Minister’s Questions, she said she was “acutely aware of and deeply concerned about the considerable impact” this could have on businesses.
To help them cope, she said the “scale of financial support” that was put in place earlier in the pandemic was needed once again.
But Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “There are simply no mechanisms available to the devolved administrations to trigger the scale of finance needed to support such schemes.
“We need the UK Government to act urgently and in the same way some other countries are already doing.”
She said the issue needs the “urgent engagement” of both the Prime Minister and his Chancellor, Rishi Sunak.
“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,” she said.
👉🏼 @NicolaSturgeon “we need the Prime Minister and Chancellor to urgently do their jobs”.
Decisions (or lack of) by the Tory UK Govt this past week have been driven by politics. That’s NOT what should be happening in a global pandemic. #FMQs
— Sarah Masson (@_sarahmasson) December 16, 2021
“I have therefore written to the Prime Minister this morning appealing to him to put the necessary support schemes in place. Such is the urgency I’ve asked to speak to him directly later today.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “Omicron is doubling every two to three days in Scotland. In parts of the UK the doubling time is currently less than two days. Lives again are at risk here, livelihoods are at risk, and the NHS is at risk.”
With the virus “raging”, she hit out at Mr Sunak for travelling to California on official business.
Ms Sturgeon said: “What businesses want, and what businesses need more than anything right now, is the Chancellor of the Exchequer at his desk putting the financial support schemes in place that will stop them going to the wall.”
While the Scottish Government is providing £100 million to help businesses in sectors such as hospitality, which are now struggling because of the new advice, the First Minister conceded this was “not enough”.
She added this is “why we need the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to do their jobs and to get proper financial support in place for businesses as quickly as is possible”.
Her plea came as she warned MSPs that it “seems likely that by tomorrow Omicron will be the dominant strain circulating in Scotland”.
She added that “because of its much higher transmissibility, this will drive an even more rapid increase in cases”.
Ms Sturgeon stated: “Omicron is spreading exceptionally fast, much faster than anything so far experienced in the pandemic.
“I am profoundly concerned by the scale and the immediacy of the challenge it poses.”
The Scottish Government is already accelerating the booster vaccination campaign, with 59,437 jags given on Thursday.
But Ms Sturgeon added: “We must understand Omicron is currently running faster than even the fastest rollout of vaccines.”
Responding to the First Minister’s call for talks, a No 10 spokesman said: “We are working closely with the Scottish Government on the shared challenge the new variant poses to us all across the UK – this has included a number of COBR meetings with the First Ministers and Deputy First Minister to co-ordinate, discuss and act on the latest data and information we have.
“In the coming days we will continue to engage and work closely with the Scottish Government because that is what people across the UK expect.
“We’ve acted rapidly to support and give the Scottish Government the certainty to spend additional money in the coming weeks – exactly as they have asked in our discussions – and we will continue to listen carefully as that co-operation steps up.”