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Covid in Scotland: No changes to local levels after review

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image captionThe five-level system is reviewed every Tuesday

Scotland's local Covid-19 alert levels are to remain unchanged, with Nicola Sturgeon saying the government must follow a "cautious approach".

Where each local authority area sits in the five-level system of measures is reviewed every Tuesday.

The first minister said restrictions were "having an impact", but that no changes would be made this week.

She said case numbers may be declining across Scotland, but it was important to "keep the virus at bay".

And Ms Sturgeon said she was "hopeful" that a deal will be agreed later on Tuesday to ease curbs over Christmas in a "temporary and limited" way to allow more people to meet up.

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A group of 11 council areas in the west of the central belt are to remain in level four - the top tier of curbs - until 11 December.

East Lothian moved down to level two as of Tuesday morning, but plans for Midlothian to make the same move were scrapped amid concerns about a rise in infections.

Ms Sturgeon said she was "hopeful" that both Dumfries and Galloway and Argyll and Bute could drop to level one in the coming weeks.

She said there had been rises in case numbers in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, but that these had been linked to "specific outbreaks" meaning they would not trigger an increase in the local levels.

And the first minister said officials were monitoring Clackmannanshire and Perth and Kinross, currently in level three, "particularly carefully" in light of a recent increase in cases.

Scotland moved to a five-level system of localised restrictions earlier in November, with the aim of suppressing the virus in high-prevalence areas but allowing more freedom in places with fewer cases.

Significant changes have been phased in over the past week, with 11 councils around Glasgow and west and central Scotland moving to level four, the top tier of measures.

Ms Sturgeon said this was a bid to "make sure cases in these areas fall more markedly", saying people there should "stay at home as much as possible".

She said: "The latest data shows that across the country as a whole and within most local authorities, the restrictions in place are having an impact.

"The number of new cases across the country has stabilised in recent weeks, and we have grounds for cautious optimism that numbers may be declining.

"There is also evidence that admissions to hospitals and intensive care units are declining too, although these do tend to fluctuate on a day to day basis. However the national picture - which is positive - masks some regional variations."

'Devastating' decision

Midlothian was originally meant to move to level two on Tuesday morning, but this was put on hold after fears about rising cases in the area.

Ms Sturgeon said the number of cases had risen from 61 per 100,000 people to 97, saying that while this was "well below the national average" the 50% increase was a concern.

Local council leader Derek Milligan said the move would be "absolutely devastating" for local businesses, and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard pressed the first minister about the "eleventh hour decision".

He said: "Decisions like this one today need to be a genuine co-production involving the locally elected council and the local business community, workers and their trade unions.

"In Midlothian they have been told for the last week that they would move to level two, including as recently as last Friday. It was only at 10:45 yesterday morning they were told that they may not. And only at 16:29, they were told by the deputy first minister that they definitely were not moving to level two.

"So that means as a result, stock ordered by businesses will go to waste, investment in health and safety measures will lie idle, and staff re-hired will once again be laid off."

The first minister said she knew the decision would be "disappointing for individuals and businesses" in Midlothian, but said it was better than risking having to move the area back up a level in a week's time.

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image captionNicola Sturgeon announced the results of the latest review of levels at Holyrood

Ms Sturgeon is due to take part in further talks later with ministers from the UK government and the other devolved administrations about easing measures at Christmas.

She told MSPs that she hoped a "common framework" would be agreed to allow more people to meet up over the festive period.

However she warned that this would be "temporary and limited", and said "people should use any flexibility carefully and only if they believe it right and necessary for their personal circumstances".

The Scottish Greens have called for the government to reveal "how much of an increase in cases" it expects after loosening the rules, with MSP Alison Johnstone saying "it's not good enough for the first minister to fall back on personal responsibility".

Meanwhile Scottish Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton asked Ms Sturgeon if she backed the "vigilante action" taken by the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford when he accused a photographer of breaking travel rules.

The first minister praised the MP's "grace and dignity" for apologising for "doing something he recognised he should not have done".

And Scottish Conservative group leader Ruth Davidson pressed Ms Sturgeon for details about the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, with the first minister saying there were still details to be ironed out about the certification of different immunisations and how they will be supplied.

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