Managing the risk of importation
Importation from abroad remains a risk to suppression of the virus. Whilst measures remain in place to manage the risk of importation from other countries, the vaccine rollout – both nationally and internationally – has allowed some relaxation in travel restrictions. The 'traffic light system' was useful whilst the vaccine programme was developing but now a focus has been placed on person-centred risk, rather than country-focused. Those people vaccinated, by a recognised country or programme, arriving from non-Red List countries are no longer required to self-isolate or complete a pre-departure test; the only requirement is to take a Day 2 PCR or lateral flow test.
The vaccine certification system is operating both nationally and internationally, and is allowing more relaxations to restrictions. This is an app-based solution with QR codes recognised by carriers and UK Border Force. Those who are unvaccinated, or vaccinated on a non-approved scheme, still have to self-isolate. Using the latest evidence, and an updated risk assessment by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), countries are still assessed by risk in order to determine testing and isolation measures for international arrivals. Arrivals from countries and territories deemed to pose an 'acute risk' ('Red List' countries) continue to be required to enter managed isolation for 10 days, whether vaccinated or not. However, the most recent assessment of global epidemiology shows Delta variant dominating across the world, and displacing variants with properties that would warrant 'Red List' restrictions. At the time of publication, there were no countries on the 'Red List'. Since the inception of this service, approximately 9,200 travellers have entered managed quarantine in Scotland, against over 1.2 million overall arrivals.
An important way to reduce the risk of importing the virus is by helping other countries to vaccinate their populations, which is also a moral imperative in its own right.
The UK is part of COVAX and, since the UK Government's Vaccines Taskforce procures vaccines on behalf of all four nations, Scotland participates in this. The Scottish Government welcomed the UK Government's (UKG) announcement that it had joined the COVAX arrangement since this supports access to vaccines in lower income countries.
In December 2020, following a review of our approach to international development in light of the pandemic, the Scottish Government provided £2 million to UNICEF from our International Development Fund to support our partner countries' COVID-19 responses, including vaccine preparedness. This year, we have allocated £1.5 million specifically to support the COVID-19 response in Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda, as part of our wider international development programme.
The UK Government procured COVID-19 vaccine supply on behalf of the devolved administrations and so, following the commitment to provide 100 million doses to other nations, the Scottish Government provided its input to UKG into the allocation decision-making process. The Scottish Government requested that allocations be given / increased to our partner countries, including Malawi and Zambia. We understand that in August, 119,200 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine shared by the UK arrived in Zambia and 119,040 doses arrived in Malawi.
When it is appropriate to do so, we will make further relaxations to allow greater freedoms for international travel. We have agreed to align with the rest of the UK in reducing the standard for the Day 2 test to allow travellers to use cheaper LFD tests which came into effect in Scotland from 31 October. This will reduce the cost burden on individuals as we continue to relax restrictions. We continue to assess countries' vaccination programmes to make them part of the accredited scheme which allows travellers to forgo self-isolation on return from a country not on the 'Red List'. The managed quarantine hotels will still operate, however, with no countries on the 'Red List' (as of early November), only at a reduced capacity, to allow rapid response to any risk that emerges over winter. A review of the managed quarantine service and monitoring of those in self-isolation is underway, with all governments of the UK involved. Options being considered include a blended approach of managed quarantine, digital solutions, and home-isolation. We expect this work to be completed in January 2022 and we will make decisions that are right to protect Scotland.