Nicola Sturgeon urged to publish scientific evidence on Spain quarantine
The leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie, has written to the First Minister in the aftermath of yesterday’s decision to re-impose the 14-day isolation rule after Covid-19 second wave fears saw the European country struck off Scotland's safe list.
It had previously decided to keep Spain off the list of approved countries, despite it being green-lit by the UK Government, because of the transmission rate of coronavirus.
Mr Rennie said the situation was “shambolic” and demanded to know how “such poor quality decisions” had been made.
On Thursday, the day Scotland lifted restrictions on travel from Spain, the Spanish health ministry reported 971 new daily infections, the biggest daily increase since Spain's lockdown ended.
Catalonia became the latest region to crack down on nightlife, trying to halt new infection clusters, with an order for all nightclubs to close for 15 days and put a midnight curfew on bars in the greater Barcelona area and other towns around Lleida that have become contagion hot zones.
Authorities in Spain have also warned the country, which lost 28,000 lives before getting its outbreak under control, could be facing the start of a second major outbreak.
The reintroduction of quarantine measures will apply to those returning from mainland Spain, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, such as Mallorca and Ibiza.
In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, Willie Rennie demanded to know the science behind the Scottish Government's decision to lift quarantine at the same time as Spain's cases were rising again.
“If it was not safe to lift the quarantine measures three weeks ago how had it been judged safe to do so earlier this week?” he asked. “Holidaymakers who left for Spain in the last few days on the expectation they would return without quarantine will be in a very difficult position with their employers.”
The MSP had previously written to Ms Sturgeon about the original decision to lift the Spanish quarantine, as he said publicly available data “showed that the infection rate in Spain had tripled since the Scottish Government singled it out for retained quarantine on 8th July."
In his latest letter he writes: "This placed a big question about the Scottish Government’s decision to lift the quarantine measures for Spain in the face of a surge of cases there.
“It is little surprise that you were obliged to reverse that decision on Saturday evening. This is now a shambolic situation and there is a big question as to how Scottish ministers have made such poor quality decisions.
“I must ask again why did you release the quarantine from Spain when the infection rate was many times higher than when you imposed the quarantine? If it was not safe to lift the quarantine measures three weeks ago how had it been judged safe to do so earlier this week?
“You need to think of the people who are paying the price for the way this is being handled by the Scottish Government. People were prepared to accept that you were acting cautiously when you keep the quarantine on 8th July. So it is no surprise that the same people had confidence that they could now make travel arrangements for their families on the basis of your new decision to relax the quarantine last week.
“If the Scottish Government wants to be considered an administration that runs on caution and science then it can’t made haphazard decisions like this on unpublished science.
"I have increasing doubts that you are basing the decisions on sound science. I asked for this earlier this week but it is even more urgent now. Please publish the detailed science which led you to the decision about lifting the quarantine measures for Spain. The Justice Secretary said there was a thorough review. It is imperative that this review is published without delay.”
In a tweet published on Saturday afternoon, Ms Sturgeon wrote: "Having reviewed the latest data earlier today, @scotgov is also reimposing 14 day quarantine for travellers returning from Spain. This reinforces the point that these matters are subject to change at short notice & so my advice is to be cautious about non essential foreign travel."
The Scottish Passenger Agents' Association (SPAA) said it was right public health was the number one priority but also queried why the decision was taken late on Saturday. SPAA president Joanne Dooey said the weekend was the busiest time for flights to Spain and some travel agents had worked through the night to try and get information to their customers.
However Scotland's Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, said the decision to lift quarantine on Spain was taken when the data showed there was an improvement in the spread of the virus.
He said: "But clearly the latest data has given us cause for concern to overturn that decision. We appreciate that this will be disappointing. However, we have always been clear we are closely monitoring the pandemic situation in all countries and that we may require to remove a country from the list of places exempt from quarantine requirements should the virus show a resurgence.
"It is still active and it is still deadly."
The move to reimpose quarantine, also made by the UK government, has also been criticised by consumer rights and travel groups for the suddenness of the decision – which even caught out Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who is currently in Spain for his summer break.
According to The Sunday Times, Mr Shapps, whose department formally announced the rule change, had to dial in from Spain to discuss altering the guidance with Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.
However today Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK government would "not apologise" for reimposing strict quarantine rules at short notice.
He told Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: "The data we got was on the Friday, it showed a big jump right across mainland Spain, that was then assessed yesterday afternoon and we took the decision as swiftly as we could. And we can't make apologies for doing so.
"We must be able to take swift, decisive action, particularly in relation to localised, or internationally in relation to Spain or a particular country, where we see we must take action. Otherwise, we risk reinfection into the UK, potentially a second wave here and then another lockdown.
"So, yes, I understand it is disruptive for those going through this who are in Spain or have been considering going but we must though be able to take swift, decisive action to protect the UK because we've made such progress in getting the virus down and prevent the virus retaking hold in the UK."
A message from the Editor:Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.Subscribe to scotsman.com and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions now to sign up.
Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.