Omicron threat in Scotland may 'diminish rather than increase', says Nicola Sturgeon

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Nicola Sturgeon omicron coronavirus Scotland - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
Nicola Sturgeon omicron coronavirus Scotland - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty

Nicola Sturgeon has predicted the threat from the omicron variant may "diminish rather than increase" after disclosing all the cases discovered in Scotland are linked to one event.

Just one day after she demanded Boris Johnson impose eight days quarantine on all arrivals to the UK, the First Minister said all cases north of the Border - which have risen from six to nine - were connected to a "single private event" on Nov 20.

She said "we fully expect" more cases will emerge that are linked to the gathering. All nine positive cases identified so far were tested on or around Nov 23 and have been self-isolating at home.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, she reiterated there was no link with the cases and any foreign travel, suggesting that "there is community transmission of omicron in Scotland".

But Ms Sturgeon said the fact that all the cases were linked to one event suggested that "this may still be limited" and none have required hospital treatment.

In addition, she said there was nothing in a review of this month's positive PCR tests conducted by Public Health Scotland to suggest that omicron was "sustained or widespread".

Outbreak unlikely to be linked to Cop26

She also told MSPs that possible links between the nine cases and the Cop 26 climate summit in Glasgow are being investigated, but the timing means it is "improbable" The conference took place from Oct 31 to Nov 13.

Her statement came the day after she and her Welsh counterpart, Mark Drakeford, wrote a joint letter to Boris Johnson urging him to force all international arrivals into the UK to self-isolate for eight days and take two PCR tests.

As more evidence about the new variant's transmissibility and vaccine resistance emerges, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that she hoped that "our level of concern will diminish rather than increase" but argued it was "prudent" to plan for a worse outcome.

However, she then admitted she was "more positive than I was a few weeks ago" about the situation in Scotland, even taking account of the new variant.

In the last week the average number of daily cases has declined 15 per cent, with an even larger fall of 27 per cent among the over-60s thanks to the booster programme. The number of people in hospital and intensive care with Covid has also fallen.

PHS examined samples dating back to Nov 1 to identify any with an "S gene drop-out", which the delta variant does not have. Full genomic sequencing was then carried out on those samples to confirm whether they showed the omicron variant.

'Almost certain' more cases will emerge

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs she considered it "highly likely - indeed almost certain - that more cases, perhaps many more cases, will emerge."

Referring to the nine cases, she said: "None of these individuals - as far as we know - has recent travel history to or known links with others who have travelled to the countries in Southern Africa where the variant was originally detected.

"However, while the contact tracing exercise is still ongoing, health protection teams have established that all nine cases are linked.

"They all trace back to a single private event on Nov 20. Indeed, we fully expect that there will be more cases identified over the coming days that are also linked to this event."

Ms Sturgeon also disclosed that "urgent modelling work" was underway on how to expand Scotland's booster rollout programme, with more than a million extra Scots now eligible for another jab.

However, unlike the Prime Minister for England, she provided no deadline for this to be completed or any indication of how the expansion would be achieved.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said: "When two million Scots are waiting for a Covid jab, it’s difficult to understand why the government is not doing everything possible to boost the rollout by backing our call for mass vaccination centres to be reopened."

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