Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill: equality impact assessment

Result of the equality impact assessment (EQIA) carried out to consider the impact of the provisions contained in the Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry)(Scotland) Bill.

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COVID-19 is first and foremost a public health crisis, and the measures to combat it have been necessary to save lives. The restrictions put in place using powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020 that have been in place since March 2020[4] have been extensive but necessary in order to limit transmission of the virus as far as possible. Public health measures needed to control and limit the spread of the virus continue to require a significant adjustment to the lives of those living in Scotland, to business in Scotland, and to the way public services are delivered and regulated.

After taking firm action to stop the spread of the virus by implementing a nationwide lockdown, the Scottish Government published Coronavirus (COVID-19): Framework for Decision Making[5] in April 2020, setting out the principles and approach for responding to the epidemic based around managing four key harms: direct health impacts of COVID-19; non-COVID-19 health harms; societal impacts; and economic impacts. These harms are deeply inter-related: health harms impact on society and the economy, just as the societal and economic effects impact on physical and mental health and wellbeing.

The Scottish Government published COVID-19: Scotland's Strategic Framework in October 2020.[6]A strategic approach to outbreak management based on graduated levels of protection was introduced in Scotland on 2 November 2020, with five packages of measures to apply different degrees of downward pressure on the Reproduction Rate (R) of the virus, according to different epidemiological conditions in the areas in which they are applied. The levels were designed to be applied locally, regionally or nationally, depending on the course of the pandemic.

An update to COVID-19: Scotland's Strategic Framework was published in February 2021,[7] in which the Scottish Government re-confirmed its strategic intent to "suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there, while we strive to return to a more normal life for as many people as possible." It described six key tools for achieving this:

  • The quickest practical roll-out of vaccinations, in line with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI);
  • The most effective use of testing and contact tracing;
  • Applying proportionate protective measures (rules and guidance) to suppress transmission of the virus;
  • Effective measures to manage the risk of importation of the virus;
  • Supporting individuals, businesses and organisations to adhere to protective measures; and
  • Providing care and support to mitigate the harms of the crisis.

The emergence of the Variants of Concern B.1.1.7 and B.1.617.2 have increased the transmissibility of the virus, making it more challenging to effectively suppress. This is one reason why public health measures continue to be required.

Current public health guidance[8] continues to mean that businesses and public authorities operate very differently to the way they have done previously. In addition, revised Protection Levels were published in April 2021[9] which set out updated packages of measures in the levels-based approach, taking into account the higher transmissibility of the B.1617.2 variant and the impact of the progress made in the vaccination roll-out. The Health Protection (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 21) Regulations 2021[10] implement the approach. All restrictions will be kept under review in the event of new developments, such as the emergence of a new variant of concern, to ensure that they remain proportionate and necessary to support the ongoing public health response.

The Scottish Acts contained measures which were required to respond to an emergency situation. The Acts contained a number of safeguards. These included: the relevant provisions in the Acts automatically expired less than six months after they came into force, although this could be extended by the Scottish Parliament for two further periods of six months; where a provision was no longer considered necessary, Scottish Ministers may bring it to an end earlier; Scottish Ministers are required to report on the continued need for the measures, and on the use of powers in the Scottish Acts, every two months.

These safeguards will continue to be in place for the duration of the extension period, with the expiry dates of Parts 1 of the Scottish Acts being extended by this Bill for a six month period to 31 March 2022, with the Scottish Parliament given the power to extend the Acts for a further period of six months to 30 September 2022. Any such regulations would be made only if deemed necessary at that time. The Bill contains no provision to extend the Acts beyond 30 September 2022.

A number of provisions are expired in this Bill which, following engagement with stakeholders, are no longer deemed necessary to have in place beyond 30 September 2021. The Scottish Government remains committed to keeping the provisions of the Scottish Acts, as extended by this Bill, under review at all times, under the now established review scheme.



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