Nicola Sturgeon to announce whether further Coronavirus restrictions
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The Scottish First Minister told a televised Covid briefing on Friday that 51.4 percent of all cases in the country are now believed to be the Omicron variant. She noted: “The tsunami I warned of about a week ago is now starting to hit us.”
Ms Sturgeon then added: “There is no doubt that, as of now, the scale and the immediacy of the challenge it presents is of profound concern.”
After issuing an appeal for Scots to reduce their social contact in the lead-up to Christmas, Ms Sturgeon said she is “acutely aware” of a “severe economic impact” for the hospitality sector.
While ministers at Holyrood have found £100 million for business support, Ms Sturgeon added: “I know it will not fully compensate these sectors for the impact they are suffering right now.”
The First Minister then repeated her call to the UK Government to put in the “type and scale of financial support available earlier in the pandemic” back in place.
She said: “Whether anybody likes it or not, that can only come from the UK Government because it has borrowing powers that the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments simply do not have.
“I will press this point with the Prime Minister later today. I had hoped that I would have already spoken have to him by now, because we must all realise that with this virus doubling every couple of days, businesses bleeding every 24 hours counts.
“There is no time to waste.”
Ms Sturgeon then told reporters the Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak had to act urgently across the country to help hospitality businesses facing mass cancellations.
She said: “The UK Government has to get its finger out, it has to step up and it has to provide this support.
“We’re seeing the same impact on hospitality in England as we’re seeing in Scotland.
“I don’t know when the Chancellor is back in the country – if he’s back in the country – but he should have no other job today but to get in place the financial support mechanisms that hospitality, culture and the wider economy need as we go through this next difficult phase.”
On Thursday, the First Minister’s plea for an emergency meeting with the Prime Minister about funding was rejected.
Downing Street insisted funding is available for the hospitality industry and dismissed the First Minister’s request for a meeting with the Prime Minister out of hand.
A spokesman said: “I haven’t got any calls or meetings to update you on.
“We continue to speak regularly and work closely with devolved administrations and we will continue to work with them as we have done throughout the pandemic.”
The official added: “You’re aware that yesterday there was a Cobra meeting that involved the devolved administrations that was led by Michael Gove.
“That meeting was in place to discuss our ongoing commitment to work together to tackle COVID-19 and an agreement to stay in close touch, opt into the lead up to Christmas.”
Downing Street also pointed to the support already in place for the Scottish Government including an extra £6.5 billion in this financial year – and a commitment to bring forward £220 million of next year’s budgets immediately.
It comes as pubs, restaurants and other hospitality firms blasted the UK Government for a lack of financial support as the Omicron variant continues to spread.
Michael Kill, head of the Night Time Industries Association, said a “sledgehammer” had been taken to the busiest time of year for bars and clubs.
He added businesses had been handed the “worst of both worlds” with the Government imposing a “pseudo-lockdown” without covering lost earnings.
Mr Kill said: “It is quite staggering that despite the obvious implications of the Government’s rhetoric we haven’t heard a squeak out of HM Treasury.”
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, also called on Mr Sunak to announce immediate measures to help workers and firms in the hardest hit sectors.
Mr Sunak has reportedly returned to the UK on Friday, after taking a four-day visit to the US.
Speaking from California on Thursday, he said there would no new support for the hospitality sector as the Omicron variant continues to spread.
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