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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Health and Sport Committee 17 November 2020

Agenda: Social Care, Subordinate Legislation, European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018


Subordinate Legislation

Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No 20) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/343)

Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No 21) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/354)

Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No 22) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/358)

The Convener

Welcome back to this meeting of the Health and Sport Committee. The second agenda item is consideration of subordinate legislation. Like the instruments that we have considered in previous weeks, the three instruments that we are considering have been laid under the Public Health etc (Scotland) Act 2008 in relation to international travel and coronavirus. They are made affirmative instruments; in other words, the affirmative procedure did not apply to the instruments because they were made urgently, but they are now with our committee for consideration under section 122(7) of the 2008 act.

We will have an evidence session with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and his officials on the instruments that we are considering, which are the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No 20) Regulations 2020, which removed Cyprus and Lithuania from the exempt country list; the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No 21) Regulations 2020, which removed Denmark, Germany and Sweden from the exempt country list; and the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No 22) Regulations 2020, which make further amendments in relation to Denmark, requiring a particular level and longer period of isolation for those arriving from that country.

To answer our questions on the regulations prior to our debate on them, I welcome to the committee Humza Yousaf, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, who is accompanied once again by Anita Popplestone, the head of police complaints and scrutiny in the police division; Craig Thomson, who is the border measures review team leader; and Victoria Calpin, who is performance team lead for test and protect performance and delivery. I invite any members who have questions for the cabinet secretary or his officials to indicate by typing “R” in the chat box in the usual way.

Cabinet secretary, I ask—as I do fairly frequently—for an update on the level of contacts made by those who are required to isolate under these and previous regulations.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

Good morning, convener and committee members. I hope that you are all keeping well and keeping safe.

The latest figures were published last Wednesday. In the week ending 8 November, 12,031 people who arrived in Scotland were required to quarantine. The number of people contacted by the national centre was 2,964. I am pleased that we are exceeding the target of 2,000 that we committed to. A full breakdown of that report from last Wednesday is available and, of course, tomorrow’s figures will be the most up to date for the week that has just passed.

The Convener

Thank you very much.

Willie Rennie

I am interested in what will happen over the festive season. What intelligence do you have on travel by students and holidaymakers? Do you have any intelligence from airlines and travel agents about whether there has been an increase in bookings? Will you increase the capacity for spot checking to make sure that we keep on top of the situation?

Humza Yousaf

Thank you for a very important question about something that was discussed at last week’s four-nations call. The general consensus—and of course this will be understandable—is that we will not see the same numbers travelling to catch some winter sun as we have seen in the festive break in previous years, but clearly there will be greater numbers of people who will travel, including students, as Willie Rennie says.

That is why I have a bit of concern around any piloting of a different airport testing regime. Members of the committee have asked me about looking at a test and release type of scheme at airports. We are exploring that through the global travel task force, but there has been some robust debate around whether that should happen before or after the winter break. My opinion is that it probably should be after rather than before.

The 2,000 checks that we committed to are giving us a good sample size. I am more than happy to enter into discussions with Public Health Scotland about whether we need to increase that capacity. My concern—I will be very frank about this—is that, at the moment, resources will be rightly and understandably focused on the upsurge of symptomatic cases across the country. It does not seem to be a good use of resource to divert resource from checking those contacts to checking up on people who largely will be asymptomatic international travellers. There is no intention to increase the number of contacts being made at this stage, but of course we keep that under review.

Willie Rennie

[Inaudible.]—about why you would not do that testing before Christmas, even under a pilot. What is the logic in delaying it until after Christmas, especially if you will not be increasing the numbers of spot checks?

Humza Yousaf

I have not made a firm decision about it, so I will not say that we definitely will not do some sort of airport testing. We have to grapple with numerous questions. The clinicians’ view, which I looked at last night, is that it might not be a wise move to test a new system before the winter break, when, although it will not be as great as it has been in previous years, the number of passengers will still be greater than it currently is. That is particularly because that type of testing would rely on private capacity—we do not want NHS testing capacity to be used for it.

I am not averse to doing it; I just have some concerns about whether the proposed system is robust. We will test it and ask the questions that need to be asked, and if we are satisfied with the answers, a different airport testing regime could be implemented before the festive break, but it is important to get the balance right. We must be satisfied that we are not piloting a new system that could have some teething problems right at the time when we will have a greater number of people travelling.

Emma Harper

Good morning, cabinet secretary. Picking up on Willie Rennie’s comment about testing, if any new testing regime is implemented, whether it was done by the private sector or not, it would have to be robust and evidence based. We would not want to see any false positives that might make people proceed in a way that would change their behaviour compared with if they had a true positive. Would it be a valuable statement to say that we need to make sure that any regime that is tested or piloted needs to be robust and secure?

Humza Yousaf

In short, yes. That is why the proposal will probably not include an immediate test on arrival, although that is something that is worth considering. It may be that people will be tested on day 7 or day 8, for example, and that, therefore, the quarantine period would be slightly shortened, if it is safe to do so, but the clinicians are still going through the details of what the global travel task force is looking at. We have not yet had the paper in all its detail. We are expecting it imminently. The task force will probably present its paper next week and, as we always do, we will try to work together as four nations.

It would be preferable to have a new system in place across the four nations, but Emma Harper is right that we have to test it, particularly in advance of greater numbers returning from travelling out of the country during the festive break.


The Convener

Thank you, cabinet secretary. I think that Emma Harper is satisfied with that answer.

Am I right to take what you say as meaning that, if the capacity was there, it could be done and it could potentially shorten the quarantine period from the current 14 days to seven or eight days? Is the issue then whether the capacity to meet that and the other likely future demands on the testing system can be achieved over the next period?

Humza Yousaf

You are right that testing capacity is one of the key issues, and I stress that it would be private capacity. We do not want NHS capacity to be used for people who go to Lanzarote for a week for some winter sun. We want NHS capacity to be used for cases in the community. It would be private sector capacity, and that is increasing. It is scaling up to quite an extent and we need to make sure that the capacity is appropriate.

We also need to measure effectiveness. Our clinicians tell us that quarantine for 14 days is the effective measure, but there are questions about how often people really quarantine for the full 14 days, and whether they become less compliant when they tail off towards days 11, 12, 13, 14, especially if they are asymptomatic, and weighing that possibility up against the possibility of being released early from quarantine after a negative test. These questions are being probed now and we are expecting fuller detail imminently from the United Kingdom Government global travel task force, and we will try to work as four nations on that. There is a question about whether it is sensible to test any pilot like this before the festive break or during the off-peak season.

The Convener

No more members are indicating that they wish to ask questions. We now move to agenda items 3 to 5 inclusive, which are the formal debates on the made affirmative instruments on which we have just taken evidence. Are members content that we have a single debate covering all the instruments together? I see that members are content to do so.

I remind members that we are now moving to a formal debate and that the minister will move the motions. There will be no questions, as such, but, if members wish to contribute, they should do so—you can indicate in the usual way.

I invite the cabinet secretary to speak to and move motions S5M-23216, S5M-23285 and S5M-23297.

Humza Yousaf

Thank you, convener. As always, I will waive the right to speak as we have just had a question-and-answer session. I will just remark that I have never known more about Danish mink farms than I do now.

I move,

That the Health and Sport Committee recommends that The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No 20) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/343). be approved.

That the Health and Sport Committee recommends that The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No 21) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/354) be approved.

That the Health and Sport Committee recommends that The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Amendment (No 22) Regulations 2020 (SSI 2020/358) be approved.

The Convener

As no members wish to have a debate on the motions, we will move directly to conclusions. Cabinet secretary, do you have any concluding remarks to make?

Humza Yousaf

No, other than to say that as soon as I receive detail and confirmation of any airport testing regime, I will ensure that the committee is informed.

Motions agreed to.

The Convener

We will report accordingly to Parliament and we will, no doubt, hear further from the cabinet secretary very soon in the way that he indicated. I thank the cabinet secretary and his officials for their attendance.