Sturgeon considers new national lockdown as furlough scheme extended
Scotland’s First Minister has said she will consider whether to impose another national lockdown now the furlough scheme has been extended.
Nicola Sturgeon said she hopes to hear from the Treasury on whether the furlough scheme extension will only be available during England’s lockdown or if it can apply in other areas, such as Scotland if they go into lockdown later.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Monday as the new five-level Covid-19 restriction system came into force, she said she would ideally take time to assess the impact of this before any lockdown decision.
But she said she requires “absolute clarity” on furlough before deciding.
Boris Johnson later said the furlough scheme would be available to other parts of the UK, now and in the future, if they implement measures requiring it.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I made clear last week, when I set out the levels that would apply initially, that we might yet have to go further and that we can’t rule out – and shouldn’t rule out – a move to Level 4 for all or parts of the country.
“And while that decision would never be easy, there is no doubt that the availability of a more extensive furlough scheme of the kind that the Prime Minister announced on Saturday would make it slightly less difficult because workers would have more of their wages paid.”
Describing the “dilemma” the Scottish Government now faces, Ms Sturgeon added: “The decision we have to weigh up in coming days is this one – should we take the opportunity of more generous financial support to step harder on the brakes now, to try to drive infection rates down faster and more firmly?
“The potential benefit of that would be suppressing Covid further and faster, at a time when financial support is available and possibly – I don’t want to overstate this – but possibly opening up a bit more breathing space over the Christmas period.
“At this stage, the indication is that the more generous funding scheme is only going to be available for the next month during the period of England’s lockdown.”
The First Minister said she and her counterparts from Wales and Northern Ireland pressed at a Cobra meeting earlier on Monday for the furlough scheme to be available for the devolved administrations whenever they require.
She added she hopes to “get absolute clarity on that point from the Treasury today”.
Speaking in the Commons, in response to a question from Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, the Prime Minister said: “The furlough is a UK-wide scheme.
“If other parts of the UK decide to go into measures which require the furlough scheme then of course it’s available to them, that has to be right and that applies not just now but of course in the future as well.”
Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “If this bears out, it is v welcome. However @scotgov seeking urgent confirmation from Treasury that it will be exactly as we asked for – furlough beyond 2 December, non time-limited and on same basis as available through Nov, inc on eligibility and 80% wages paid.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford has written to the Prime Minister seeking this confirmation.
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon urged Scots to avoid meeting indoors and not try to find loopholes in the new tier system of restrictions.
She also gave an update on the daily coronavirus figures, saying Scotland recorded 951 positive coronavirus tests in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 66,012, with a daily test positivity rate of 9.6%, up from 7% on Sunday.
Of the new cases, 385 are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 268 in Lanarkshire, 76 in Ayrshire and Arran and 69 in Lothian.
No coronavirus deaths have been recorded in the past 24 hours but Ms Sturgeon warned this figure should be treated with caution as registry offices are largely closed on Sundays.
The death toll under this measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – remains at 2,849.
Ms Sturgeon said there are 1,225 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, up by 32 in 24 hours.
Of these patients, 93 are in intensive care, a rise of 12.
A postcode checker has been launched to help people in Scotland check where their area is in the new five-level system, which came into force at 6am.
The levels have been graded from 0 to 4, with no local authorities currently placed in the highest tier.
Levels 1, 2 and 3 are broadly comparable to the three tiers of restrictions set in England – before their national lockdown later this week – while Level 0 is similar to what was in place across Scotland in August when the virus was suppressed to very low levels.
Home visiting, with some exceptions, is banned across Scotland.
The central belt – including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Stirling and Falkirk – has been joined by Dundee and Ayrshire in Level 3, where hospitality businesses are banned from selling alcohol and must close at 6pm.
Six people from two households can meet in public outdoors, which is the same rule as in Level 2, which applies to Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen, Fife, the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Argyll and Bute, Perth and Kinross and Angus.
In these areas indoor hospitality venues must close at 8pm and outdoor areas by 10.30pm.
Elsewhere, Highland, Moray, Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland have entered Level 1.
Hospitality businesses must close by 10.30pm, both inside and outside.