NICOLA Sturgeon has vented her “frustration” at Boris Johnson’s Government – warning SNP ministers still have “no clarity” over how much of the integral testing infrastructure and funding will be retained when it is axed in England.
The First Minister confirmed that despite the stand-off with Westminster over funding, the Scottish Government is “determined to retain a robust testing system capable of providing Scotland with strong resilience against future Covid threat”.
Pointing to UK minsiters, Ms Sturgeon said that she “hope they get their act together quickly”.
She said: “Public health decisions are devolved but decisions that determine how much resource is available to Scotland, to Wales, to Northern Ireland flow only from public health decisions that are taken for England by the UK Government.”
The FM added that the arrangement was “unacceptable and unsustainable”.
Ms Sturgeon was speaking as she set out her government’s strategic framework for living with Covid.
Speaking in Holyrood, the FM said: “I must express frustration at the position of the UK Government. It is, of course, for the Prime Minister to decide how best to tackle Covid in England.
“However, current funding arrangements mean that though taxpayers in all four UK nations contribute to the costs, it is decisions taken for England that determine the resources available to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for testing and other Covid measures.”
She added: “As of now, we have no clarity on how much of the Covid testing infrastructure the UK Government intends to retain, no clarity on how much investment will support it in future and no clarity on whether the Treasury will provide additional resources to pay for it or demand instead that funding is taken from elsewhere in the health budget.
“I hope we get this clarity soon so that we can out in more detail our longer term approach to testing.”
But the First Minister insisted that the Scottish Government will not change path and continue to follow health advice.
She said: “I want to give an assurance that the Scottish Government is determined to retain a robust testing system capable of providing Scotland with strong resilience against future Covid threats, and firmly aligned with public health advice and the principles underpinning our National Health Service.”
Ms Sturgeon confirmed that under her framework, vaccine passports will be binned from Monday while the legal requirement to wear face masks will be changed to guidance from March 21.
The First Minister admitted that “it is highly likely that the virus will continue to mutate and confront us with new – and potentially more harmful – variants”.
She said: “To identify and respond to such threats quickly, we will maintain a strong surveillance capability in Scotland.
“We will set this out in more detail next month but, subject to the point I made earlier about the overall resources available to us, our surveillance system will include: extensive PCR sampling and processing capacity; wastewater sampling; and genomic sequencing capability.
“We also welcome confirmation that the UK-wide Covid infection survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics will continue.
“It is essential, however, that it continues at scale and we will seek to work with the UK Government to ensure this is the case.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross pointed the intention of SNP ministers to be “moving to a system of representative sampling away from mass testing”.
He added: “So why has the First Minister created a fight with the UK Government over this issue just weeks before her own plans to scale back testing anyway?”
The FM said it was “a bit rich for Douglas Ross to accuse me of picking a fight with Boris Johnson” after the Scottish Tory leader called on the PM to quit over the Partygate scandal.
She added: “We all agree that in time, we should move to a more targeted system of testing.
“The difference between the Scottish Government and the UK Government is we think we should do that in a careful, phased basis and that we should give great care and thought into the testing infrastructure – built up over the past two years – that we retain for the future.
“To dismantle that in any significant way, I think would be inexcusable negligence, given the threats that Covid still presents to us.
“Instead, we had an announcement from the UK Govenrment yesterday of what they are stopping doing, but no clarity on what they intend to retain or the funding that will be in place to support that. I think that is deeply regrettable.”