Sturgeon tells Scots not to expect easing of restrictions for Hogmanay
Nicola Sturgeon has warned that any easing of Covid-19 controls over Christmas will not last into Hogmanay and the new year period in Scotland, despite Hogmanay’s cultural significance.
She said that while no final decision had yet been taken, she expected the Covid physical distancing travel, shopping and hospitality regulations will be reimposed after they are briefly eased over Christmas.
She confirmed the UK’s four governments are close to announcing a UK-wide easing of the restrictions for a limited number of days over Christmas, involving a maximum of three families, and some potential relaxation of travel rules. But it would not include New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.
She told the briefing:
I do not expect that we will be announcing any particular relaxations over the new year period. Why not? Because we can’t do everything. The Christmas thing is hard enough.
Why Christmas and not new year? Well maybe Christmas is a more important time for kids. I think for most of us, even if we value New Year, Christmas is still the time when families are more likely to not want to have somebody on their own.
People really just have to understand that Christmas may be a big enough ask for us and may involve difficult enough decisions without that extending to another part of the festive period.
If people were allowed to mingle at Christmas, it increased the risks the virus would spread if Hogmanay events went ahead too, she said.
While its importance has been diluted over recent decades with the surge in the popularity and commercialisation of Christmas, the Hogmanay period has historically been of greater social significance in Scotland.
The period is marked in Scotland by large New Year’s Eve parties and family gatherings, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival and fireworks, and mass participation events such as the Loony Dook sea swim near the Forth bridge on New Year’s day. These organised events have already been cancelled.
The Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, has raised the prospect of a new Covid tier system being introduced in Wales.
Following its 17-day “firebreak” lockdown, the Welsh government brought in a national set of Covid restrictions, arguing this was better to have one system for the whole of Wales.
But speaking at the Welsh government’s press conference, Gething suggested there might advantages to be common approaches across the UK not just over Christmas but in the run-up to the festive period.
He did not say there would definitely be a tiered system but posed the question: “Would there be a benefit for all of us having a more common set of measures ahead of Christmas?”
Asked about a rise in Covid cases in Cardigan, south-west Wales, which has been blamed by the local authority on parties and pub crawls, Gething said: “The challenge is not to think we can go back to the old normal.”
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The Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, has highlighted a concerning increase in the rise of the number of younger people infected with Covid in Wales.
At the Welsh government’s coronavirus briefing Gething said that the rate for under-25s fell during and after the Welsh firebreak but that it had started to rise again. He said the pattern was that infections of younger people quickly worked though to older men and women.
Gething said that while the whole-Wales rate was “stable, there were “worrying” rates in particular areas in the south of Wales – Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Torfaen and Caerphilly.
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Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has told other government leaders her administration needs to work on a Covid-safe policy for Hogmanay this year, as well as agree UK-wide policies for Christmas.
In Scotland, the traditional emphasis on Hogmanay as the focus of family gatherings adds an additional layer of complication for Sturgeon’s government. If families are allowed to mingle over Christmas, why not Hogmanay too?
Many Scots still regard celebrating the new year as a much more important social and cultural event. Our colleague Steve Morris reports that this was flagged by Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, at his regular Covid briefing last Friday.
Drakeford was asked about the four nations talks on relaxing Covid controls for Christmas. He said:
There are different traditions in different parts of the country. In Scotland, for example, the new year celebrations have always been a more significant part of their national way of marking the winter festival than in some other parts of the country. There are different things that have to be thought about in the different contexts that each nation faces.
Officials in Scotland say this was raised by Sturgeon during a four-nations call chaired by Michael Gove, the UK government’s Cabinet Office minister, early last week. But preparing for Hogmanay is not part of the four nations strategy due to be unveiled in the next few days.
Sturgeon has made clear she is worried that lifting controls over Christmas will feed the pandemic and increase deaths, particularly amongst the elderly. There would be some leeway, but not much, she warned last week:
I want to do that in a way that also minimises the risk of me standing at this podium in late January, reporting really horrible numbers of people who have died because of infections that we’ve picked up over the Christmas period.
Like so much with this virus we’re trying to strike the right balance.
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