John Swinney appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme to discuss Scotland’s handling of the pandemic and how many Scots would now be celebrating the New Year from the comfort of their homes. Mr Swinney was put on the spot as England is allowing people to go out to clubs and pubs whereas those in Scotland would be prevented from doing so. Host Martha Kearney remarked the SNP did not “trust” the population to be sensible and was accused of ruining people’s “sense of community”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Ms Kearney wondered why Mr Swinney would not trust Scots to take a lateral flow test and if they were negative then they would be allowed to celebrate New Year as normal.
He replied: “We do trust people and encourage them to do exactly that.
“But we’ve also asked people to limit their social contact because we can see from all the data that you’ve just recounted, the Omicron is spreading very widely within our society.
“It poses a serious threat to us, we can see hospitalisation levels are increasing… so at a time when I recognise all of the sentiments that were set out… I recognise all of those traditions, I have been part of them, I value them, appreciate them.
“I love them as part of who we are. Unfortunately, this time around, we have to apply some constraints on the level of social interaction we have to protect us.”
Ms Kearney remarked that celebrations like Hogmanay were “important” to people’s wellbeing and “sense of community”.
Mr Swinney replied: “Absolutely, and I think what we’ve tried to do through the handling of the pandemic is to recognise that there is a very direct and acute hailstorm that comes from Covid.
“But there are also indirect harms that are affecting other health conditions, the mental well being of individuals, the social and economic condition of our society and we’ve tried to take a balanced approach to reflect that.
“The fact that whilst we, on the one hand, have to make sure we take the action to protect the public and public health from Covid, we’ve also got to take measures which are enabling people to have a certain level of social interaction.
“Which is what we provided for not as much as we would like, but we have provided for that to enable people to be able to enjoy some of what’s so incredibly special about this time of year.”
Big celebrations like Hogmanay have been cancelled due to the threat of Omicron in Scotland with hospitality venues operating at a much-reduced S rate than normal.
The Scottish Government put in place rules from December 26 for three weeks which limits the size of public events.
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These include up to 100 people at indoor standing events, 200 at indoor seated events and 500 people at either seated or standing outdoor events.
The Scottish Government also advised the population to stay at home and to limit the contact they have with each other over New Year.
Scotland already follows mask-wearing for public venues, social distancing, Covid certification and testing for visits to hospitals or care homes.
Mr Swinney also commented on the news that some Scots were choosing to travel to England to celebrate the New Year and said that was the “wrong course of action”.
England is the only country that has not introduced new restrictions for the New Year.