Publication - FOI/EIR release

COVID-19 Introduction of quarantine: FOI release

Published: 19 Jan 2021

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Published:
19 Jan 2021
COVID-19 Introduction of quarantine: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202000085477
Date received: 8 Sep 2020
Date responded: 18 Jan 2021
Information requested

REQUEST 1
All correspondence (briefings, letters, memos, minutes of meetings etc.) between Scottish Government officials, Scottish Government and UK Government officials, Scottish Government officials and the First Minister, Health Secretary and Justice Secretary about the introduction of quarantine. This should include but not be limited to advice (including scientific advice) given to and decisions taken by First Minister, Health Secretary and Justice Secretary.

REQUEST 2
The quarantine criteria that is being used to determine Exempt and Non-Exempt countries. This should include but not be limited to all correspondence (briefings, letters, memos, minutes of meetings etc.) between Scottish Government officials, Scottish Government and UK Government officials, Scottish Government officials and First Minister, Health Secretary and Justice Secretary in drawing up and discussing this criteria, advice (including scientific advice) given to and decisions taken by First Minister, Health Secretary and Justice Secretary.

REQUEST 3
Details of quarantine alternatives, such as but not limited to testing, previously and currently being examined by the Scottish Government. This should include but not be limited to all correspondence (briefings, letters, memos, minutes of meetings etc.) between Scottish Government officials and the First Minister, Health Secretary and Justice Secretary, advice (including scientific advice) given to and decisions taken by the First Minister, Health Secretary and Justice Secretary.

REQUEST 4
The following breakdown of Covid-19 cases:

  • Since March 1 2020, cases of Covid-19 that were imported and domestic
  • Since 23 March 2020 (beginning of lockdown), cases of Covid-19 that were imported and domestic
  • Since 8 June 2020 (introduction of quarantine), cases of Covid-19 that were imported and domestic
Response

Response to Request 1 and elements within request 2 where you ask for ‘all correspondence’.
While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the costs of locating, retrieving and providing the information requested would exceed the upper cost limit of £600. This is because initial searches of our systems indicate that there is a very large number of items which would be potentially within scope of the first part of your request, and which would require to be checked individually in order to determine whether they are in fact within scope.

There is also a large number of officials who might reasonably be expected to have engaged in exchanges regarding quarantine and its introduction. Responding to this request would require me to ask those officials to search their personal mailboxes etc.

When asked for ‘all correspondence’ we are required to consider that this includes all internal email exchanges. As you might expect, there has been a very considerable volume of internal email traffic on the subject of quarantine. 

The part of your second request seeking, “all correspondence (briefings, letters, memos, minutes of meetings etc.) between Scottish Government officials, Scottish Government and UK Government officials, Scottish Government officials and First Minister, Health Secretary and Justice Secretary in drawing up and discussing this criteria” also exceeds the cost limit for similar reasons.

Under section 12 of FOISA public authorities are not required to comply with a request for information if the authority estimates that the cost of complying would exceed the upper cost limit, which is currently set at £600 by Regulations made under section 12.

You may, however, wish to consider reducing the scope of your request in order that the costs can be brought below £600. You may also find it helpful to look at the Scottish Information Commissioner’s ‘Tips for requesting information under FOI and the EIRs’ on his website at:
http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/YourRights/Tipsforrequesters.aspx.

Response to Request 2
With regards to the quarantine criteria used to determine exempt and non-exempt countries, an exemption under section 28(1) of FOISA (relations within the UK) applies to the information requested. 
This exemption applies because quarantine decisions are based on assessments provided by the JBC and PHE, and disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially relations between the Scottish Government and the UK Government.

It is essential for the effective administration of the UK as a whole that there should be regular, and often private, communications between the Scottish Government, the UK Government and the other devolved administrations. The release of these communications will mean that the UK Government is likely to be more reluctant to share such information with the Scottish Government in future, which would reduce both the frequency and openness of communications between the Scottish Government and other UK administrations.

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. 

However, there is a greater public interest in maintaining good relations between the Scottish Government and the UK Government, and in protecting the free exchange of information between the administrations to ensure that we keep each other fully and regularly informed about matters of mutual interest. There is no public interest in disclosing information when that will damage relationships and disrupt future communications. 

It may be helpful to note that JBC have recently published information on the methodology used which is available on gov.uk. I have included the link for ease.
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-risk-assessment-methodology-for-inboundinternational-travel/covid-19-risk-assessment-methodology-for-inbound-international-travel

Response to Request 3
In this instance the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested. As your original request was received on 8 September, we must consider what alternatives were being considered up to and including that date. While a meeting had been held with airports to listen to their concerns, alternatives to quarantine were not considered prior to 8 September.

This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

It may be helpful to note that a submission was put to Ministers for consideration on 8 October outlining a ‘Test and Release’ pilot as an alternative to quarantine. I have attached a redacted copy of this submission.

Response to Request 4
In this instance the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested. The Test and Protect data that both PHS and Scottish Government hold on Covid cases associated with international travel is based on people who have tested positive and report recent travel in their Test and Protect interview. If a case reports recent travel, this does not mean that they have been infected with Covid whilst overseas, it simply means that one of their recent exposures has been international travel (cases are also asked about domestic travel – within the UK but outside Scotland).

This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

However, you may wish to contact Public Health Scotland at PHS.FOI@nhs.net, who may be able to help you. However, you may wish to amend the question asked to how many cases have been linked to/associated with international travel.

It may be useful to note that PHS publish a weekly stats report which contains information on cases that have reported recent international and domestic travel. https://beta.isdscotland.org/findpublications-and-data/population-health/covid-19/covid-19-statistical-report/

Reports published on 7, 14, 21 October include basic travel stats. The reports published on 28 October and 4 November have more detailed breakdowns of reported travel.

It may also be helpful to note that a report written for the UK government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) by members of the COG-UK Consortium has been recently published and includes information on the impact of travel on cases in the second wave in Scotland.
Epidemic waves of COVID-19 in Scotland: a genomic perspective on the impact of the introduction and relaxation of lockdown on SARS-CoV-2 (cogconsortium.uk)[MM(1] 

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses.

Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG