Nicola Sturgeon has warned that she will refuse to simply “rubber stamp” plans for quarantine-free overseas travel for Scots, even after warnings that her delay was causing job losses and a cross-border stampede to English airports.
The First Minister on Tuesday faced down an increasingly angry aviation and travel industry, insisting she would continue her analysis of international data in deciding whether to adopt UK Government plans for “air bridges” to 59 destinations, or seek to maintain restrictions on arrivals from some of the countries.
She hinted that Scots could still be required to quarantine for 14 days upon return if they choose to visit popular destinations such as Spain.
She repeated her call for Scots to consider a ‘staycation’ at home rather than going on a foreign trip. However, a senior figure in the travel industry described her stance as “flippant” and claimed that airlines could ditch routes from the country.
Joanne Dooey, owner of a Coatbridge-based travel company and president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association, said passengers were already booking holidays from English airports in their droves to avoid the “complicated” picture at home.
The Scottish company Barrhead Travel this week announced job losses, and Ms Dooey said others in the aviation and tourism sectors would also be forced to make redundancies as a result of delays.
“We’ve seen doors open at lots of [travel] agents in Scotland, and obviously we can’t sell anything from our Scottish airports who are ready to take customers through,” she said.
“We cannot understand why Scotland has been left behind and this has a massive impact on our economy, on our travel industry. Flippant remarks from Nicola Sturgeon with regards to ‘holiday in Scotland’. How does that help the travel industry in Scotland? Thousands of people’s jobs are at risk here.”
Ms Dooey told the BBC: “People will travel and they will travel from England. Airlines will pull routes out of Scotland. We have customers coming into our shop, wanting to go on holiday and will travel from England. That’s no use to the industry up here. We’re confused as an industry, so how does the customer feel?”
However, speaking at her daily press briefing, Ms Sturgeon said she would continue to take her time to analyse data about coronavirus cases overseas.
Although she has not said which countries she has particular concerns over, she highlighted recent outbreaks in Galicia and Catalonia in Spain, as well as in Serbia and Australia, which have resulted in second lockdowns.
As she warned coronavirus could "spiral out of control again in the blink of an eye", the First Minister said: "I'm not in any aspect of this prepared to simply be a rubber stamp on decisions taken by another Government."
She added: “If people want a First Minister that is just going to be a rubber stamp for decisions taken elsewhere at any point - but particularly where she has a concern that those decisions may not be absolutely the right ones given the circumstances we face in Scotland - then that is not me."
Her comments came after interim chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith said the global situation is "very volatile".
Meanwhile, Humza Yousaf, the Justice Secretary, faced further calls to explain why he had claimed 20 per cent of passengers required to quarantine under existing rules had been checked by health officials, only for it to emerge at the weekend that in fact none had been contacted.
Mr Yousaf wrote to a Holyrood committee yesterday saying he had believed his remarks were correct at the time.
However, in reply, Lewis Macdonald, convener of Holyrood’s health committee, said “further clarification” was needed.
Mr Macdonald said: “We have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to seek further clarification on why this misleading figure of 20 per cent was given to the Committee at a time when there had been no quarantine checks on travellers coming to Scotland. We are also seeking a response from Mr Yousaf on a number of other matters raised during this evidence session.”