First Minister's Foreword
It has been two long years since COVID-19 first arrived in Scotland and changed all our lives. In common with countries around the world, the toll of the pandemic in Scotland has been heavy and I send my condolences to everyone who has suffered loss and my gratitude to all those who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much.
That includes, of course, all those across our public health, healthcare and social care services who have been working unstintingly to protect lives for such a long time. It also includes those in public services, the third sector and businesses across the country who have gone above and beyond during the pandemic, often in very challenging circumstances, to keep going while helping to keep people safe.
The advent of Omicron – by far the most transmissible variant of the coronavirus that we have encountered so far – and the challenges it brought, was a salutary reminder that we need to remain both vigilant and prepared for further harmful variants, and to continue to manage the epidemic effectively, for as long as necessary.
However, against these challenges there has been cause for optimism too. A year ago, the level of infections we have faced over the past couple of months would have necessitated far greater restrictions on our lives. During this most recent wave, however, we managed to keep schools and most businesses open. And although we advised everyone to limit contacts and avoid unnecessary socialising, Christmas was still much more normal than the year before.
This was all made possible – even in the face of the more transmissible Omicron variant – as a result of extraordinary advances in science and technology over the past two years that are enabling a more sustainable response to the virus and therefore a return to greater normality.
These advances include the remarkable vaccination programme, with its unprecedented pace and breadth of roll-out, and the development of new treatments that will reduce the harm from this disease. All of these give us good reason to hope that we are now in a calmer phase of the pandemic, and on a path to the virus becoming endemic.
Further, although the economic impact of the pandemic and the emergent recovery from it has not been even across different sectors, with many still struggling, overall the economy has now recovered to its pre-pandemic level of output and unemployment is near record lows.
This update to our Strategic Framework for managing COVID-19 sets out our future plans as we prepare for a calmer phase and seek to sustain it.
In developing this future approach the Scottish Government has engaged extensively with stakeholders and considered carefully the proposals set out by political parties and other organisations. These underline the shared ambition to get the future approach to managing COVID-19 right, and demonstrate a degree of consensus, even if we will not agree on every aspect of it. I will seek the approval of Parliament for the approach set out in this document.
It is a statement of the obvious that we cannot remove all of the uncertainty about the future caused by this virus, but we do want to provide as much clarity as possible about our approach in the months ahead. In particular, we want to help people and organisations know what to do to manage COVID-19 effectively and sustainably, so that we have the best possible chance of returning to a much more normal way of life.
The Framework therefore makes clear that – thanks to the progress in vaccination and treatments – we intend to rely much less on legal requirements going forwards and much more on people and organisations taking basic, sensible steps to reduce the risk of and harm from COVID-19. This less restrictive approach will support the broad recovery and better future that we all want to see.
We know, however, that the threat of new variants that are potentially more harmful remains, and that we must be ready to respond effectively to such an eventuality so that we can mitigate the harm that might otherwise be caused. It is important that we share our thinking on how we will respond if the threat from the virus increases again in the future, so that people and organisations are able to plan ahead. By setting out new categories of risk (low, medium, high), the factors that will help us judge which of these we face at any given time, and potential measures that could be deployed in response to each, this document seeks to do that.
In addition, our work to support and enable recovery is already proceeding at pace, as part of our COVID-19 Recovery Strategy for Scotland.
We, as a government, will do what we need to do, working with partners and informed by the views of stakeholders, to ensure resilience and prepare for new variants or other future emergencies. We are committed to learning lessons from this epidemic to bolster our response to future crises. We will also co-operate fully with the COVID-19 Public Inquiry that is now underway.
As we look forward to 2022 with renewed optimism but also a sense of continued vigilance and resilience, no-one can guarantee a return to life exactly as it was in every respect before COVID-19. But through our collective efforts – and even though the road ahead may yet be challenging at times – we know that recovery and progress to a better future is now underway.
Rt Hon Nicola Sturgeon MSP
First Minister of Scotland
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