The Scottish Government can take the necessary steps to counter a potential spike in Covid-19 cases caused by the COP26 gathering, health secretary Humza Yousaf has said.
As many as 25,000 people are set to arrive in Glasgow for the key climate summit, billed as the “last chance” to counter the effects of climate change.
But experts, including key government advisers, have raised concerns over a potential increase in cases associated with so many people being in a relatively small area.
Speaking on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show, Yousaf said “of course” there will be Covid-19 cases associated with the event, but he was confident these could be contained.
“There’s not a public health expert in the world that would say there’s no risk in the middle of a global pandemic to have tens of thousands of people descending onto largely one city,” he said.
“There is absolutely a risk of Covid cases rising thereafter, but we’ll do everything we can to mitigate that.”
He added: “We are also very, very assured by the protocols we’ve got in place (at the conference) to be able to isolate those cases as best as we possibly can.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “The health secretary simply had no answers to the potential impact of COP26 on our NHS.
“We need to see action to speed up the booster programme, ramp up testing and to secure surge capacity for our NHS.
“We are looking down the barrel at a winter of extreme pressure on our NHS and potentially surging levels of Covid.
“We need action from the health secretary to avoid this, not warm words.”
Cases in Scotland were on the rise throughout the summer as coronavirus restrictions were relaxed, but began to fall in September as the vaccination programme reached its end with young people included, but the drop has levelled off, with cases in October rarely falling below 2000 per day.
Despite the stubborn statistics, the health secretary said there are no immediate plans for a return to tough restrictions.
“We’re not actively considering restrictions,” he said.
“We know the harm restrictions have had in the past and therefore doing things like ensuring as many people get vaccinated as possible, continuing to make face coverings mandatory in certain settings such as indoor public settings and public transport, ensuring that we have that universal testing offer and asking people to test themselves regularly.”
But Yousaf said it would be “foolish” to speculate on possible restrictions at Christmas.
“I’m not going to tell you what’s happening in a couple of months time,” he said.
Girl backs candle-free Halloween after hair fire horror
Karla Peacock suffered serious burns after being set on fire by a candle.
Karla Peacock was practising blowing out candles ahead of her fifth birthday when her hair suddenly became engulfed in flames.
Instead of celebrating with friends and family, she endured eight weeks in hospital with second and third-degree burns to her scalp and has been left with lasting nerve damage.
Now 16, Karla is backing a new Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) campaign urging people to abandon real candles this Halloween in favour of battery-operated alternatives.
Karla, from Port Glasgow, said: “All I can remember was shouting ‘fire, fire’, and my mum screaming and then me being in an ambulance. I was in hospital for a long time and I’ve had multiple operations since.
“My injury has had an impact, not just on my appearance, but also how I feel about myself. With the skin grafts, my scars are only visible now if I point them out, but they are always visible to me.
“Due to my surgeries I’ve been left with nerve damage and spinal pain and I also get panicked when I smell smoke and hear alarms or sirens.”
Karla is now in college studying theatre make-up and construction, and credits her recovery to help and support received from the Scottish Burned Children’s Club.
She said: “This Halloween, my advice is to go flameless and switch to reusable candles. With no naked flame it totally removes any risk of injury.
“Children are curious and don’t see the dangers others are more aware of. I want to share my story to stop another child having to experience what I have.”
The SFRS Go Flameless campaign is warning that Halloween costumes can often burn more quickly than normal clothing.
Deputy assistant chief officer Alasdair Perry said: “I commend Karla for her bravery in sharing her story, which shows only too starkly why children should never be left alone near a naked flame and lit candles should never be left unattended.
“We want everyone to have a fun Halloween, but we also want it to be safe. We’re urging people to swap tealight and other candles with a naked flame for a reusable flameless type instead as this simple step completely removes the risk of fire and the dangers it brings.”
‘Donald Trump said he would buy me a beer… but he never did’
Ten memorable moments to celebrate ten years of STV current affairs show Scotland Tonight.
Happy birthday, Scotland Tonight! The STV current affairs show is celebrating ten years of debate and discussion across news, politics and entertainment.
Here, we look back at some of the stand-out moments from the show’s history, with memories from presenters John MacKay and Rona Dougall.
Donald Trump becomes first ever guest – October 24, 2011
Five years before his stunning election as US President, Donald Trump was interviewed from Trump Tower in New York.
At the time, he was embroiled in a row with the Scottish Government and Aberdeenshire Council over plans for a wind farm off the coast of his new golf course.
Trump got the new show off to a flier – but the first star name to appear on Scotland Tonight very nearly didn’t…
“The cost of the satellite was too expensive, so we had a clever workaround,” recalls John. “Donald Trump was sitting in Trump Tower in NYC listening to my questions from the studio down a phone line.
“An American film crew in his office filmed his responses, which were then sent back to us in Glasgow, where they would be cut together with my questions.
“Only problem was there was a major delay in the footage from the States reaching us. With a short time to go until our debut programme, it looked as if it was going to be a disaster.
“Fortunately, it all came together. Donald Trump said he’d buy me a beer next time was in Scotland. He never did.”
Graeme Obree discusses suicide – November 30, 2011
Record-breaking cycling champion Graeme Obree took part in a discussion on the subject of suicide, following the death of Wales football manager Gary Speed.
In a moving interview – which John describes as “one of the most memorable” he’s ever done – Obree revealed that he had twice attempted to take his own life.
“I asked the question many people might ask,” recalls John. “How could he have tried to do this with a wife and family needing him? His answer was compelling.
“He said that people in that desperate situation genuinely believe they are doing their family a favour by leaving them. He described it as attending a party you don’t want to be at. You participate and smile, but all the while you really don’t want to be there.
“Intensify that tenfold every single day, he said, and that’s what it’s like for someone who thinks life is not worth living.”
Sturgeon starstruck by Sidse – February 4, 2013
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon took over the Scotland Tonight interviewer’s chair to grill the Danish Prime Minister… or at least a fictional version.
Sidse Babett Knudsen had become well known for playing the role in the acclaimed political drama Borgen – and found a firm fan in Sturgeon.
Wrestlemania in the studio – June 18, 2013
Greg Hemphill and Rab Florence were interviewed about their forthcoming comedy wrestling bout at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow – when they decided to scrap in the studio.
“I knew they were hamming it up, but I did start to think they were maybe getting a bit serious as the insults started to fly,” recalls Rona. “I was horrified when Greg chucked the glass of water. I thought ‘yikes, what next?’.
“Looking back, I’m proud of myself for not swearing!”
‘Help me, Rona’ – November 27, 2013
In what became known as the ‘Help me, Rona’ moment – although he didn’t actually use that exact phrase – then-Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael appealed for assistance during a head-to-head independence referendum debate with then-Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
“I think it’s very cool that I inspired a catchphrase, even if he didn’t actually say that,” says Rona.
“These debates were a fantastic format and I really enjoyed doing them. The run-up to the referendum was such an exciting time in politics in Scotland, and I really felt like I had a front-row seat as it all unfolded.”
Powerful reflection 20 years after Dunblane massacre – March 8, 2016
Isabel Wilson, whose five-year-old daughter died in the 1996 Dunblane Primary School massacre, gave her first interview to mark the 20th anniversary.
“I was at Dunblane on the day of the shooting and reported on the subsequent inquiry,” says John. “It remains the story that has affected me most in my career.
“Isabel Wilson spoke for the first time on the 20th anniversary. She emphasised that she would not be identified as the mother of a Dunblane victim. She would not be defined by that. It was as powerful a testimony as I have ever heard.”
The guest who didn’t say anything – June 15, 2017
Not easy carrying out an interview when the guest won’t say anything, but that’s exactly what happened when American comedy magic duo Penn and Teller appeared in the studio.
Only Penn would answer questions – and perform a trick with Rona and a jellybean – while Teller remained silent.
Rona recalls: “These guys were, well, magic. I was having a great chat with them both in the green room before we went on air, but as soon as the interview started, Teller didn’t say a word.
“It’s his thing to be the mute half of the act. Quite disconcerting, though, to have one of your interviewees sit resolutely silent.
“They did perform a brilliant trick, which resulted in a jellybean appearing out of a nose. Still wonder how the heck they did that.”
Doddie Weir on his battle with MND – August 29, 2017
Scottish rugby great Doddie Weir left Rona in tears as he told of his determination to find new treatments for motor neurone disease.
Weir went on to set up his own foundation, My Name is Doddie, to raise money for research into the muscle-wasting condition.
“I think Doddie was a bit nervous before the interview in case he became too emotional, but I was the one who shed the tears in the end,” says Rona.
“It was very unprofessional, but I was so moved by his courage and determination to try and change the treatment and life outcomes of people diagnosed with MND.”
Big win with the Big Yin – March 12, 2020
Shortly before Scotland locked down, John carried out an extended interview with Sir Billy Connolly.
Despite suffering from Parkinson’s, the comedy legend was in great form as he launched an art exhibition in Glasgow.
“He kept walking past me as he went from one interview to another and apologised for ‘keeping this man waiting’,” recalls John. “We were last because we were doing an extended interview to which the entire programme was devoted.
“As well as being very, very funny, he was also very reflective. He has been one of the major Scottish figures of my lifetime and to find him as engaged and funny as I hoped was a joy.”
Covid Q&A with Jason Leitch – March 19, 2020
In what was to become the first of many Scotland Tonight appearances, national clinical director Jason Leitch answered viewers’ questions about coronavirus as the pandemic started to take hold.
Scotland was just days away from the first major lockdown and viewers had no shortage of questions about how life was set to change.
Leitch was soon to become a household name as he tried to help Scots navigate their way through new rules and regulations.
“Jason Leitch is a great communicator and obviously really enjoys the process of being interviewed, which made my job easy,” says Rona.
“When we did this first interview with him, viewers were hungry for answers as it was such a difficult time and so much was unclear. The only problem was trying to fit all the questions in. I think viewers appreciated the chance to get some clarity.”
Missing people chat service launched after demand rises during pandemic
Phone calls to the national Missing People helpline have risen more than a third (39%) in a year.
A charity for missing people has launched an online chat service for vulnerable adults in response to rising demand and cases of increased severity during the coronavirus pandemic.
Phone calls to the national Missing People helpline have risen more than a third (39%) in a year, from just under 1000 calls between 2019-2020 to 1384 recorded over the following year.
Overall, the number of adults helped by the charity has jumped 16% over the same period, from 2373 to 2747 adults.
An increasing number of these people were assessed as being at serious risk, it said – a trend which has continued throughout 2021.
The charity, which reunites families in the UK, has launched the chat service after it noted a 13% rise in adults using its existing service intended for children and young people.
The new service is confidential, anonymous, non-judgmental and free.
Sophie Lapham, director of services at Missing People, said: “Over the past year or so, in particular, we have been speaking to people who have felt ‘like they just want to disappear’ or ‘feel trapped’ and ‘need to get away’.
“They say they ‘don’t want to be here anymore’ and feel like their families and friends ‘would be better off without them’. These are their words.”
She added: “More people prefer the speed and anonymity of instant chat, particularly young adults.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for people in crisis to get the help they need.”
The charity said people go missing or think about disappearing for multiple reasons, but poor mental health is a common factor in most scenarios.
Problems with work, money, debt or relationship breakdowns can also be key factors.
Ju Blencowe, who went missing in 2017 during a mental health crisis following the death of her mother, said the new service could “build a bridge to others who feel like I once did”.
She said: “You can share your pain with as little or as much anonymity as you feel you need.
“It’s less intrusive and yet still vitally in touch with another person whose sole purpose is to listen without judgment and support without fear of reprisal.”
Increasingly police are asking the charity to text a missing person through its Suicide Risk Text Safe, and broader Text Safe services.
This involves the charity texting a missing person with its contact details and details of the Samaritans.
It has seen a rise of 72% per quarter on average in demand for its Suicide Risk Text Safe service – sending 545 texts per quarter since April 2021, up from 316 texts per quarter in 2020/21.
The number of text safe requests has risen 20% on average per quarter – from 3539 per quarter in 2020/21 up to 4231 per quarter so far since April.
The charity said some of the rise could be down to more police forces starting to use the service, but it believes a genuine increase in need is also driving the trend.
Neil Goulden, from the Trustee Gamesys Foundation, which is funding the new chat service, said: “Missing People today launch their powerful new online chat service for adults who are missing or thinking of going missing.
“The Gamesys Foundation are proud and delighted to support Missing People and fund this service, especially around the areas of mental health which is commonly experienced by missing people.”
For help, advice or support, or to pass on information about a missing person, you can call or text Missing People, confidentially, on 116 000, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.missingpeople.org.uk/get-help to access Online Chat.
Dividends soar as companies hand out Covid cash reserves
Payouts hit £34.9bn between July and September, 89% higher than the same period last year.
Shareholder dividends paid to investors soared this year as companies handed out cash hoarded during the pandemic, according to new data.
Payouts hit £34.9bn between July and September, 89% higher than the same period last year, according to financial data firm Link Group.
The sharp jump was in part due to large one-off dividends, but regular dividends also soared by 52.6% to £27.7bn.
Payouts halved in the same period last year as the pandemic took hold and left businesses guarding cash reserves.
Link’s Ian Stokes said: “The good news is that we have consistently seen companies deliver more in dividends than we thought likely at the beginning of the year in the depths of the UK’s longest, strictest lockdown.
“The boom in special dividends reflects how some companies are making catch-up payments, some are capitalising on very strong demand, and others are seizing the moment to sell assets at a time of high prices and numerous cash-rich potential buyers.”
Mining investors enjoyed the biggest rise with payouts quadrupling to £12.8bn and outgunning the next five biggest sectors combined.
As a result mining firms will be responsible for nearly £1 in every £4 distributed by UK-listed companies this year. Shareholders in Ferrexpo and Rio Tinto have already seen two special dividend payments this year as soaring iron ore prices bolstered profits at the firms.
But Link Group warned that falling commodity prices would lead to a drop in mining dividend payouts next year.
Banking dividends played a large part in growth between July and September after the Bank of England lifted all restrictions on payouts in July.
The Bank had ordered lenders to scrap nearly £8bn worth of dividends last year to free up cash which lenders could use to support the economy.
Link Group’s monitor showed that almost all travel and hospitality firms are yet to restart dividend payments after a difficult 18 months in which lockdowns have severely restricted revenues.
The COP26 summit in Glasgow is being billed as the biggest UN climate conference since countries secured the Paris Agreement at talks in the French capital in 2015.
However, there is no big new deal like the Paris Agreement to agree at COP26 – instead Glasgow has to deliver on the promises made six years ago and, alongside the formal UN negotiations, drive action to tackle the worsening climate crisis.
Here are some of the key areas where action is needed and where momentum and new commitments could help Glasgow be seen as a success:
Keeping 1.5C within reach
Glasgow has been billed as the last best chance to limit global warming to 1.5C in the long term.
Under the Paris Agreement, countries committed to curbing temperature rises to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5C – beyond which worsening impacts of climate change will be felt.
But, back in 2015, it was clear the emissions cuts countries had signed up to left the world far off track to meet the global temperature goals so, under the Paris deal, countries were due to bring forward more ambitious post-2020 national plans ahead of COP26.
Even with new plans many countries have brought forward, the world is nowhere near on track for the 1.5C target, and there are concerns that some countries might turn their attention to post-2030 action, when much more efforts are needed within the next ten years.
So UK officials want to see countries addressing how to close the gap between ambition and action required up to 2030, as part of the negotiated text that it is hoped will be secured by the end of the two weeks of talks.
The key to success at COP26 is delivering on a long-promised $100bn a year for 2020 to 2025 for poorer countries to develop cleanly and cope with the impacts of climate change.
It is seen as a matter of trust between developing and developed nations for donor countries to deliver on the promised private and public climate finance, and conversations will also begin on unlocking further funds after 2025.
There is pressure for finance to be split equally between efforts to cut emissions and to adapt to climate change, and also pressure to address demands on support for loss and damage caused by extreme weather and rising seas.
Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel, and polluting coal plants need to be phased out in the next two decades to meet climate goals, according to the International Energy Agency.
The UK wants to see more momentum on ending the use of coal, and is urging developed countries and regions to commit to phasing it out by 2030, or by 2040 in the case of developing nations, and for commitments to no new plants.
Road transport accounts for a tenth of global emissions, so countries are being urged to commit to ensuring all new car and van sales are zero emission vehicles by 2035 or 2040 and put in place policies to boost uptake.
Vehicle manufacturers are also being urged to commit to selling only zero emissions vehicles by 2035 or earlier.
Healthy and restored forests can absorb and lock up vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, and protecting trees – along with other carbon-storing natural habitats such as peatlands – is seen as key to cutting emissions and helping communities and wildlife cope with climate change.
The pressure is on countries to take steps to halt and reverse deforestation, switch to sustainable agriculture and support efforts to protect or conserve 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030.
While the most significant greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, methane – from sources including livestock, agriculture such as rice production and fossil fuel extraction – is a powerful, but short-lived climate-warming gas.
Cutting emissions of methane is seen as a key way to curb warming in the short-term.
A US and EU-led “global methane pledge” which commits countries to cut their emissions of the gas by 30% by 2030 has already garnered a number of signatures ahead of its formal launch at COP26, where it is hoped more will sign up.
The Paris rulebook
Back in the negotiations, there are still some outstanding issues about how bits of the Paris Agreement are going to work, and they need to be sorted out to make it operational and effective.
There are three issues: transparency, Article 6, and common timeframes, and negotiating them will be key to COP26.
A transparency regime would see UN-run assessments of what countries are doing on climate, but all countries need to agree to face these reviews.
Countries are meant to submit updated climate plans – or NDCs – every five years under the Paris Agreement, but there is no coherence on how long a period those plans cover.
Agreeing common timeframes will make it clearer who is doing what and help comparisons.
And then there is Article 6: the part of the Paris Agreement which covers carbon markets.
Finalising the rules on how these markets work would allow countries to buy carbon credits that fund new clean projects or protect and restore forests to cover their emissions as part of climate action.