Essential staff may be exempted from isolation in ‘very limited’ situations

Key workers in critical roles in Scotland will be able to avoid self-isolation after close contact with coronavirus if they are fully vaccinated and tested daily, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

Isolation will not be necessary for close contacts of infected people if their work is deemed essential and staff shortages could impact sectors such as health and social care, transport and food supply.

Affected industries will have to ask the Scottish Government to exempt staff from mandatory quarantine rules and health and social care staff are not included in the change.

If the government deems a critical role can be exempted, the worker will still need to show proof that they have received two doses of the coronavirus vaccine at least two weeks before any close contact, have a negative PCR test and agree to perform tests. lateral flow testing for 10 days after contact.

Ms Sturgeon said: ‘It is vital that vital services and essential national infrastructure are maintained and we are implementing these changes now – ahead of any changes to self-isolation rules for close contacts that may apply more generally in the future – to ensure that staff shortages do not put key services at risk.

“We have seen significant staff shortages in a small number of organizations in recent days and have been working with them to protect services.

“Exemption requests are being reviewed starting today and we will review requests as they come in.

“Clinical evidence tells us that we can safely and effectively release some essential staff from self-isolation, with appropriate safeguards.

The changes to self-isolation have been confirmed by Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

“We will not allow key services to be threatened by staff shortages, but we must also continue to protect public health.”

Applications for isolation exemption can be made through the Scottish Government website and will need to demonstrate that the organization is part of the country’s critical infrastructure, what steps have been taken to address pressure on the sector and the impact of not taking action.

They will also need to define the intended scope of the exemption, such as location and number of employees affected.

The government says any exemption process for health, social care and local services will be different and announced at an as yet unconfirmed date.

Covid-19 cases in Scotland rose at the start of the summer before starting to fall in recent weeks.

The latest statistics show six coronavirus deaths and 1,505 new cases have been recorded in the past 24 hours.

A total of 502 people were in hospital on Thursday with newly confirmed Covid-19, up 14 from the previous day, with 57 patients in intensive care, down one.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross hailed the announcement as a “cautious step in the right direction to help key industries move Scotland forward”, but said the government needed to clarify exactly who would be eligible for the exemption and for how long.

Mr Ross said: “There are also real concerns that the SNP will overwhelm businesses and individuals with layers of bureaucracy.

“The application process needs to be as smooth as possible at a time when businesses are already under enormous pressure.

“Ministers must also tell the public whether these limited changes will now have an effect on potential wider changes to self-isolation rules as part of the planned lifting of all restrictions next month.”

Prime Minister's Questions
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has welcomed the decision to allow some people to be exempted from self-isolation (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

But Unite union industrial manager James O’Connell questioned the ‘bet’ of allowing some people to avoid isolation and said: ‘There have been an increasing number of cases of the Delta variant in Scotland and we cannot allow this to get out of hand.

“While we understand that there is a need and a desire to return to normality, we must remember that vaccination is not immunization.

“Unite members – particularly in vulnerable sectors such as health and social care – are extremely worried that we could see a new spike in hospital admissions, and it is frontline staff who has to deal with that.”

Scottish Labor health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: ‘We need a plan to ease self-isolation requirements, but the government’s sticky plaster solution raises as many questions as it answers .

“The current situation of staff shortages facing essential businesses and services is not sustainable, but change cannot come at the expense of frontline worker safety or public health.

“For this to work, you need a robust and reliable testing program so people can return to work safely.”

Michelle J. Kelley