Britain's Downing Street has rejected calls from the Scottish and Welsh first ministers for tougher travel restrictions and an urgent meeting to tackle the threat posed by the new Omicron variant.
Scotland's Nicola Sturgeon and Wales' Mark Drakeford joined forces to demand that the British prime minister convene an urgent Cobra meeting to discuss taking a four-nations approach to issues such as border restrictions.
While the Scottish government has followed the new travel restrictions put in place by Westminster, requiring passengers coming into the UK to do a PCR test two days after arrival, Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford wrote to Boris Johnson calling for people coming into the UK from overseas to be required to self-isolate for eight days – and then do a second PCR test.
It comes after six cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus were identified in Scotland, in addition to three previously identified in England.
The British prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We would confirm any plans for a cobra meeting in the normal way. Currently, there isn’t one scheduled.
“We obviously speak to our devolved administration counterparts very regularly and we will continue to coordinate our response with them.”
Downing Street also rejected the call from the pair for the self-isolation period for travellers to be extended until the result of a test on day eight after arriving in the UK.
Extending the requirements would have a “detrimental effect” on the travel industry, No 10 said.
The spokesman said: “We believe that the approach we’ve taken is the proportionate one to the evidence that we currently have available about this variant.
“Introducing further isolation requirements and testing requirements would have a detrimental effect on the travel industry and indeed those who are planning to go travelling.”
This morning, the First Minister of Scotland @NicolaSturgeon and I have called on the Prime Minister to hold a COBRA meeting.
It’s vital we work together as four nations to limit the spread of the new #Omicron variant.
Read the letter here ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/WCUjSuNGA7
— Mark Drakeford (@PrifWeinidog) November 29, 2021
In their letter to Mr Johnson, Ms Sturgeon and Mr Drakeford told him: “We believe the reinstatement of a requirement for a day eight PCR test for travellers arriving into the UK – alongside the day two requirement already announced, and thereby requiring isolation for that whole period – is now necessary.
“Public health advice is unequivocal that this is the best and safest way to protect against the importation of this variant to the fullest extent possible.”
They added: “While our public health systems work hard to minimise the spread of cases already in the UK, it is imperative that we do all we can to avoid under-cutting these efforts by permitting on-going importation.”
In addition to discussion on travel restrictions, the Scottish and Welsh first ministers also want the UK government to commit to providing the necessary funding to support businesses if “more interventionist measures are required”.
They told Mr Johnson it would be “better to consider this now, in advance of a potential escalation in the seriousness of the situation”.
They added: “In particular, it is important for us to agree that if the conditions in a devolved nation were to require more significant interventions than in England, the agreed package of financial support would be available to that nation.
“We do not want to be in a position again where our public health interventions are negatively impacted by a lack of financial support, but can be switched on as required for England.”