Quarantine-free foreign summer holidays for double-jabbed Scots could become possible by August, it has emerged, as Nicola Sturgeon insisted a record surge in Covid cases had not derailed her ‘freedom day’ timetable.
The First Minister said on Tuesday that she hoped vaccination would “open up international travel safely” within the “coming weeks”, raising hopes that a list of feasible destinations for overseas breaks is set to drastically expand.
Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, Gregor Smith, added that with the inoculation programme progressing rapidly, “much greater freedom” would soon be introduced based on vaccination status.
The comments suggest that Ms Sturgeon is prepared to sign up to a UK Government plan, which is currently being drawn up, which would allow those who have received both vaccinations to travel to amber list countries without the need to quarantine when they return. She had previously been pessimistic about foreign holidays this year, or a large-scale easing of travel rules, due to a risk of importing new virus variants.
The Telegraph understands that any such system is unlikely to be introduced in July, although a significant easing of international travel rules could come in early August. It is likely that the system would include a requirement to take PCR tests before departure and two days after returning home.
“On that point about double vaccination for international travel, we haven’t reached a final decision on that yet,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“But I do hope that we will see vaccination open up international travel safely over the coming weeks."
Ms Sturgeon also insisted that she remained “confident” that Scotland would be able to return to near-normality domestically as planned, despite a huge surge in cases over recent days.
She admitted for the first time that the recent surge, which has seen Scotland become the UK virus hotspot, had been partly fuelled by the thousands of football fans who descended on London for the Euro 2020 clash with England.
Scottish football fans crowding into London's Leicester Square earlier this month
On Tuesday, Scotland recorded more than 3,000 new cases for the second day in a row, with 11.5 per cent of tests coming back positive. The threshold for the virus being “under control”, according to the World Health Organisation, is five per cent.
Some experts have called on Ms Sturgeon to “pause” her plan for Scotland to move to Level 0 on July 19, before a planned lifting of all major remaining legal restrictions on ‘freedom day’ of August 9.
Modelling compiled by Scottish Government experts has predicted that under a “worst case” scenario there could be more than 100,000 new cases per week by the middle of next month, and warned this would mean that 1,000 hospital beds would be occupied.
There were 215 people in hospital and 20 in intensive care on Tuesday, suggesting pressure on the NHS could increase dramatically under the pessimistic scenario. The Test and Protect system is also at “breaking point”, it was claimed yesterday, amid fears staff are struggling to keep up with the surge in Covid infections.
However, while Ms Sturgeon repeated her familiar call for caution, there are not currently plans to reimpose restrictions. Dundee, Edinburgh and its surrounding areas are currently experiencing major outbreaks, mostly among younger people.
“The case numbers look a bit scary at the moment,” Ms Sturgeon said. “We shouldn’t be complacent about that, but we are in a very different place now because of vaccination. We are not seeing the commensurate increases in hospitalisations and the number of people dying.
“If we hit our vaccination milestones, as we are confident we will do, then the projected outlook is a good and positive one.”
UK leads Europe in vaccinations
She also denied taking a “softly softly” approach with Scotland fans travelling to London, saying thousands had ignored her advice not to travel without a ticket.
Humza Yousaf, the SNP health secretary, admitted on Tuesday that fans were partly to blame for an uptick in Covid cases on their return. An estimated 20,000 Scotland fans travelled to London on June 18 to support the national team at their first major tournament in 23 years.
Mr Yousaf said many fans had travelled in coaches with little social distancing in place, while fans then gathered in London with little regard for the rules.
Meanwhile, asked about the prospect of foreign summer holidays, Dr Smith said it was “inevitable” that the success of the vaccination programme meant a more lenient approach would be adopted in future.
Some countries on the UK’s green list, such as Malta, have imposed quarantine restrictions for UK holidaymakers travelling there but these do not apply to those with both vaccinations.
“I think we all know the benefits of vaccination has brought to the population,” he said. “We know that it’s protective against severe disease, we know that it has an impact on transmission as well.
“We’ve got so many people across the country double vaccinated, and I anticipate that once we begin to complete those adult vaccinations, towards the summer and early autumn period, we’ll be looking to see how we can introduce much greater freedom based on your vaccination status.”