Covid-19 restrictions ease on Monday in Scotland despite claims that the vaccination rollout is "falling at the finish line" with more than a quarter of a million young adults yet to be given a first dose.
The mainland moved to Level 0 this morning, meaning a partial relaxation of distancing requirements and limits on gatherings, although a target of giving at least one jab to all adults by Sunday was missed by a wide margin.
As of last night figures showed that 31.1 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds, around 260,000 people, remain unprotected against Covid-19, amid mounting evidence that the rollout is slowing and concern that younger generations are snubbing the programme.
Almost a fifth of people in their 30s have also either refused to be vaccinated or are still waiting for a dose.
Monday’s nationwide move to a “modified” Level 0 was initially tied to a target of having all Scots vaccinated with at least one dose by July 18.
While Humza Yousaf, the Health Secretary, claimed the target had been met as doses were given to every adult “who attended their appointment”, opposition parties accused him of “shifting the goalposts”.
Last month, Ms Sturgeon said “we now expect to have completed first doses for all adults by 18 July” but statistics published on Sunday showed just under 450,000 are yet to be vaccinated.
There is close to 100 per cent first dose coverage among over 55s, suggesting younger groups are either refusing jabs or have been missed by the programme.
SNP ministers have said they are expanding use of walk-in clinics, although one of the largest, at the P&J Live in Aberdeen, said it was unable to offer second doses of AstraZeneca jabs due to supply issues.
Meanwhile, a mass vaccination centre at the Hydro in Glasgow closed permanently, after ministers rejected calls to keep it open.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said it appeared the SNP Government had “fallen at the finish line in the vaccine rollout” while Annie Wells, his party’s health spokeswoman, said the failure to hit the vaccination milestone was a “major let down”.
“Nearly 1 in 3 young people haven’t had their first jag and neither have 1 in 5 people aged 30 to 39 years old, so it’s crystal clear the SNP Government must do more to encourage uptake in those age groups,” Ms Wells said.
“Instead of acting swiftly to increase the vaccine rollout pace, Humza Yousaf is more interested in shifting the goalposts and spinning the figures to claim the target has been met when it’s clear that isn’t the case.”
According to the Scottish Government’s own research, of those not yet vaccinated, just 29 per cent say they are likely to accept a jab once a jab is offered to them. The finding was based on a small sample size from polling commissioned by the Government last week.
Scotland’s move to Level 0 today comes as England enjoys far greater freedoms as legal restrictions are lifted south of the border. It is hoped that a similar move in Scotland will take place on August 9, although unlike in England, mandatory face coverings in some settings will remain.
Scotland’s infection rate is now higher than England’s
There were 1,735 new cases of Covid-19 reported in Scotland on Sunday, the lowest daily figure in three weeks. There were 511 people in hospital (SAT) and 46 in intensive care.
Jillian Evans, head of health intelligence at NHS Grampian, told BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show that she feared the added strain on hospitals the move to Level 0 could cause.
She said: "Just looking at case numbers is not enough to understand what’s going on at the moment, so I am worried and of course you do look at what’s happening in terms of hospital admissions.
“In my own area, a significant increase over the last 10 days, and we know how many there are across the UK. This is a really serious time that we’re facing.”
Level 0 panel
From today, curbs on hospitality in Scotland will be eased but venues must still close by midnight. Distancing in Level 0 will reduce to one metre in all indoor public settings. Up to 200 people will be able to attend weddings and funerals.
The Scottish government has previously rejected opposition criticism of the pace of the vaccine roll-out, claiming it is constrained by supply of vaccines and having to follow expert recommendations to leave an eight week gap between first and second doses.
However, figures show more than 140,000 people had not received their second jab within the eight-week timescale.
A spokesman for Mr Yousaf accused the Tories of "trying to talk down the huge success of the vaccine programme in Scotland".
He added: “89.1 per cent of the adult population have now received their first dose. That is not just matching England’s 87.7 per cent, it’s beyond it."