Sturgeon tells PM: Failure to act on Omicron puts financial recovery at risk

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  • Nicola Sturgeon
    Nicola Sturgeon
    5th First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the Scottish National Party
  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019

Coronavirus restrictions in some sectors may be “unavoidable” due to the sharp rise in Omicron cases, Nicola Sturgeon has told the Prime Minister.

The Scottish First Minister also told Boris Johnson that failing to put financial support in place for businesses meant that risking the UK’s economic recovery “becomes all but inevitable”.

The SNP leader made a direct plea to Mr Johnson to act in the wake of record numbers of coronavirus cases – urging him to either re-establish the furlough scheme or give the devolved administrations the means to set up similar initiatives of their own.

She raised these issues as a “matter of extreme urgency” in a letter to the Prime Minister, in which she told him she was “profoundly concerned by the scale and immediacy of the threat posed by Omicron”.

She warned: “The sheer number of people likely to be infected in the period ahead risks overwhelming the NHS and disabling the economy and other critical services.”

Ms Sturgeon has already appealed to Scots to restrict their contact with others, recommending meet-ups should be limited to no more than three households.

However, she said this advice needs to be strengthened further, as she told Mr Johnson: “I also believe that restrictions on the operation of higher-risk settings, while of course undesirable, may now be unavoidable.”

Even if further restrictions are not put in place, Ms Sturgeon warned: “If left unchecked, Omicron will deliver a significant economic shock that will see lack of staff and pressure on already stressed supply chains lead directly to business failure.”

First Minster’s Questions
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to Boris Johnson (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

She added: “Frankly, if we do not get Omicron under control we are sacrificing the economic recovery we all want to see.

“If the Treasury does not provide financial compensation and protection, this result becomes all but inevitable.”

Current funding arrangements for the devolved governments in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff leave them unable to set up “financial packages on the scale needed”, the First Minister said.

As a result, she told the Prime Minister: “I am therefore appealing directly to you – and urgently – to re-establish UK-wide schemes for furlough, or alternatively establish a mechanism whereby the devolved administrations, subject of course to appropriate financial controls, can trigger such schemes and to ensure we have access to the financial support needed to deploy these schemes.”

Ms Sturgeon concluded: “Once again the need to protect the NHS and save lives and livelihoods must be uppermost in our minds and drive our actions.

“A lack of necessary and sufficient financial support must not be a barrier to us doing so.”

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