Sturgeon urged to set out schedule to support taxi drivers

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has said cab drivers are in 'dire need' of help.

Taxis: Nicola Sturgeon urged to set out financial assistance to help drivers. STV News
Taxis: Nicola Sturgeon urged to set out financial assistance to help drivers.

Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to set out when financial assistance which could help struggling taxi drivers will be made available.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said cab drivers are in “dire need” of help, as he called on the First Minister to clarify when they might receive support.

It comes after Ms Sturgeon announced a £30m “discretionary fund” is being made available to councils to deliver extra support for businesses, including taxi drivers.

Mr Leonard said taxi drivers had been contacting him “seeking urgent advice” about when the cash will be available.

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Coronavirus restrictions mean many drivers have suffered major drops in income during the pandemic – but will still have to pay costs associated with their vehicle and insurance.

Mr Leonard said “many are facing very real hardship”, and his office has been “inundated with queries from taxi drivers”.

In a letter to Ms Sturgeon, he said: “Many are scouring the websites of their local authorities for further information, but this does not yet appear to be available.

“Can I therefore request that you provide information on when these funds will be allocated and disbursed to local authorities, and provide an indication as to when this group of workers may be able to access these funds.”

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A Scottish Government spokeswoman said further details about the fund – which was promised when Ms Sturgeon announced 11 council areas were being placed in level four restrictions earlier this month – will be announced “shortly”.

The spokeswoman said: “We have listened to businesses and tailored our support throughout this unprecedented economic crisis. 

“Our total package for businesses is over £2.3bn and we have announced an additional £45m in funding will be made available to local authorities to support businesses impacted by coronavirus.

“We welcome the extension of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme so drivers can obtain 80% of previous earnings. We are currently considering further support for fixed costs pressures on self-employed taxi drivers and others.

“We are actively taking steps to fill in the gaps in UK-wide schemes. This includes £15m for newly self-employed people who are not able to access other forms of financial support.

“We are also establishing a £30m discretionary fund to enable local authorities to provide additional support for businesses where they consider that necessary.

“The Scottish Government is working closely with local authorities in developing these funds and further details will be announced shortly.”


Reassuring the BAME community that Covid vaccine is safe

Faith leaders, academics, celebrities and medics join forces to dispel myths surrounding the coronavirus vaccination.

STV News

By Ewan Petrie and Kevin Scott

Sir Geoff Palmer rolls up his sleeve without hesitation and leans his arm out of the car window – ready to receive the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

It is a significant moment for the academic and human rights activist.

He now has some immunity against Covid-19. But in a broader sense, his willingness to receive the vaccine sends a powerful message to the black and minority ethnic (BAME) community about the importance of getting immunised.

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There are concerns some ethnic minority groups in Scotland could be reluctant to take up the Covid-19 vaccine after misinformation about its side effects spread online.

Faith leaders and medics are assuring people it is safe, and are highlighting the importance of getting the jab.

“It sort of makes me feel more responsible,” said Palmer.

“Because what I was fearful of is that if I didn’t get this vaccine I could be infecting somebody else and the whole idea of responsibility is that you are respecting other people’s lives,” he added.

Sir Geoff Palmer
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This week, celebrities joined forces to counter misinformation in ethnic minority communities amid concerns they are being targeted by anti-vaccine propaganda.

They are among the most hesitant to be vaccinated but also the most affected – with infections and deaths disproportionately high.  

General Practitioner Dr Punam Krishan says some of the common misconceptions have been around falsehoods such as the vaccine containing meat products.

Dr Punam Krishan

She said: “We’ve actually had senior faith leaders from the Muslim community, from the Indian community, verify that that is not the case.

“So there is no pork, no beef, no gelatine; there are no human embryo cells in the vaccine.”  

But not everyone is convinced.

Shahnoor Chowdhury has underlying health conditions. He remains sceptical because of things he’s heard from people in his community.

Shahnoor Chowdhury
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He told STV News: Some people say it is not effective, some people say the ethnic minority people are affected more, so this is something very scary for me, especially as I’m 75-years-old, if I don’t get the right information at the right time.  

“Not only me, but there are hundreds of thousands of people like me, who are very scared about this situation.”  

Some want tougher action on those behind the misinformation being spread about the vaccine.

The Edinburgh and Lothian Regional Equality Council (Elrec) said older South Asian people often rely on family networks for information and may encounter “foreign messages” spreading false claims.

It has called on the Scottish Government to ensure that translated public health information reaches older people in minority communities who may have language or literacy issues.

Foysol Choudhury

Foysol Choudhury, the chairman of Elrec, said: “Those people who are scaring people, to me they are killers.

“They are spreading rumours, they are giving wrong information to people. I would urge the Government to make sure that if they are caught they are punished like criminals.”  

Equalities Minister Chistina McKelvie believes there is an overlap between the groups who are most hesitant about the vaccine and those most affected by Covid-19.

McKelvie has written to community leaders “asking for their help in developing and delivering targeted messages to communities, to address specific barriers they may have to taking up the vaccination”.

That is one example of a greater focus on how to deliver targeted messages to ethnic minority communities.  

Professor Vittal Katikireddi

Professor Vittal Katikireddi, a professor of public health and health inequalities at the University of Glasgow, said: “I think that involves people in the local authorities, within local public health organisations, but also individual GP practices, churches, other religious organisations and other local groups who are actually much closer to people’s lives and then often much more trusted.”  

As the rollout of the vaccine continues to pick up pace, it is the building of trust and the debunking of myths – particularly among minority ethnic groups – that remain some of the key challenges in this pandemic.      

Heavy snow expected as two yellow weather warnings issued

The Met Office has issued two weather warnings for snow across the country.

Carlos G. Lopez via Getty Images
Snow: Wintry weather conditions expected across Scotland.

Scots are set to wake up to wintry weather conditions as two weather warnings for snow have been put in place. 

On Thursday, the Met Office issued two yellow alerts for snow across the country.

A warning was put in place for parts of the central belt, the Scottish Borders and Strathclyde from 4am until 3pm.

Meanwhile a second alert for snow was put in place across Grampian, Tayside, the Highlands and parts of the west coast until 9am on Friday. 

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Heavy rainfall has also affected parts of the country, with motorists warned to drive with care as surface water affects roads. 

Gritters have been deployed to treat roads across the country.


PM talks up Union’s role in tackling Covid before Scotland trip

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has questioned Boris Johnson's decision to travel to Scotland during pandemic.

Leon Neal / Staff via Getty Images / Jeff J Mitchell/Staff via Getty Images
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is visiting Scotland on Thursday.

Boris Johnson will use a visit to Scotland to argue that the Union has been integral in administering the coronavirus vaccine, providing Covid testing and giving economic support north of the border during the pandemic.

The Prime Minister has spoken before his trip on Thursday about the “great benefits of co-operation” that the Union has brought while dealing with the coronavirus crisis, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the UK.

The visit comes as calls grow for a second independence vote for Scotland.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is arguing that should her SNP group win a majority at the Holyrood election – currently still scheduled for May – then that would be grounds for a new border poll.

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The Scottish Parliament on Wednesday backed the idea of planning another independence referendum despite accusations it is “reckless and damaging” to do so during the coronavirus pandemic.

An SNP amendment to a Scottish Tories motion – stating “there can be no justification whatsoever to deny people in Scotland their democratic rights” if there is a pro-independence majority after May’s Holyrood election -passed by 65 votes to 56

Sturgeon, who has said Johnson’s visit to Scotland is “not essential” during the current lockdown, this week accused the Conservative Party leader of being “frightened of democracy” in his refusal to back another poll on the union, following 2014’s independence defeat.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 briefing on Wednesday, Sturgeon said: “I am not and never would be saying that Boris Johnson is not welcome in Scotland. He is the Prime Minister of the UK.

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“But beyond that, everybody is welcome in Scotland. Well, maybe not a certain ex-president that I kind of suggested earlier on maybe rather didn’t come to Scotland, but I won’t divert down that road.

“Boris Johnson is not unwelcome in Scotland, even if I had the ability to stop him.”

Downing Street plans to stress the benefits of being in the UK for Scotland, with Johnson highlighting the support afforded Scots during the Covid-19 crisis.

Speaking ahead of his visit to Scotland, the Prime Minister said: “The great benefits of co-operation across the whole of the UK have never been clearer than since the beginning of this pandemic.

“We have pulled together to defeat the virus, providing £8.6bn to the Scottish Government to support public services whilst also protecting the jobs of more than 930,000 citizens in Scotland.

“We have a vaccine programme developed in labs in Oxford being administered across the United Kingdom by our armed forces, who are helping to establish 80 new vaccine centres across Scotland.

“That’s how we are delivering for the people of Scotland so we can ensure the strongest possible recovery from the virus.

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“Mutual co-operation across the UK throughout this pandemic is exactly what the people of Scotland expect and it is what I have been focused on.

“The people of the UK have stood together during this pandemic: from our doctors and nurses in our hospitals to our shop workers, scientists, lorry drivers and teachers – working together as one truly United Kingdom is the best way to build our Covid recovery.”

Forbes to outline ‘most important Budget since devolution’

Finance Secretary set to reveal latest spending pledges as Scotland wrestles with the coronavirus pandemic.

Handout via Getty Images
Kate Forbes will deliver Scottish Government's Budget in Holyrood.

The Scottish Government’s latest Budget will be the “most important in the history of devolution”, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has said.

As Scotland wrestles with the coronavirus pandemic and forecasted downturns caused by Brexit, Forbes will outline her spending pledges in Holyrood on Thursday.

Some opposition parties have urged the Government to focus on recovery from the virus crisis, which has caused one of the greatest economic shocks in history.

Little is known about what Forbes will outline, although she has already said there will not be a public sector pay freeze similar to that imposed by the UK Government.

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She has also hinted at the extension of rates relief for businesses, though has stressed the Scottish Government has “limited resources” with which to back the policy.

Speaking ahead of her Budget statement in Parliament, she said: “This is the most important Budget in the history of devolution. It comes as we are tackling a global pandemic and working to mitigate the damaging effects of a Brexit that Scotland did not vote for.

“I must ensure that every penny I have at my disposal makes an impact. The measures I am laying before Parliament today will provide certainty and stability to business, support families and bolster public services, while promoting sustainable growth and creating jobs.

“I hope the Scottish Parliament will support this Budget and help build the fairer, greener and more prosperous Scotland we all want to see.”

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Her spending announcement was pushed back due to a delay to the UK Government’s Budget, which will not now be outlined until March.

Forbes said her planning had been impacted by a lack of knowledge of UK plans, as she again called for greater powers to be devolved to Scotland.

“The delayed UK Budget has made the task more difficult by denying us crucial information on tax rates and funding,” she said.

“It highlights the flawed fiscal arrangements the devolved administrations operate within and I once again urge the Chancellor to grant the borrowing powers and flexibility we need to respond quickly and decisively to the unprecedented challenges facing us all.”

The Scottish Conservatives have urged the Government to ensure it can deliver the pledges laid out in the Budget, with leader Douglas Ross accusing ministers of making “empty promises” over business support announced in the last few months.

The party has listed nine points it wants the Scottish Government to commit to, including to rule out tax rises, to cover free school meals for all primary school children, and to defund any preparations for another independence referendum.

Scottish Labour has highlighted the importance of business support in the economic recovery, calling for further help as well as investment in training and skills, combined with increased funding for the NHS and a £15 per hour pay deal for social care workers.

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The Liberal Democrats said their focus is on more support for mental health services following the pandemic, and funding for schools to help pupils disadvantaged by the coronavirus crisis.

Health workers ‘struggling to cope’ with Covid-19 crisis

New research shows health workers are having panic attacks and sleepless nights as they deal with coronavirus pandemic.

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Unison has called for measures to help staff on the front line of the pandemic.

Health workers are struggling to cope with the impact of the coronavirus crisis, suffering severe mental health problems such as panic attacks and having sleepless nights, new research suggests.

Unison called for free 24-hour helplines and other measures to help staff on the front line of the pandemic.

Almost half of 14,000 health employees including nurses, porters, paramedics, healthcare assistants and A&E staff across the UK surveyed by the union said they have struggled to cope.

Helplines were urgently needed to support those experiencing burnout , especially as hospital admissions continue to soar, said Unison.

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Some respondents said they have experienced suicidal thoughts, post traumatic stress disorder symptoms and panic attacks, felt helpless when supporting patients – or quit their jobs altogether.

Others said their mental health has been affected by having to leave rented accommodation because landlords are worried about Covid-19, or fears they will infect their families, according to the findings.

The results showed that half have sought mental health support, with the majority turning to friends, family and colleagues.

Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said: “The pressure on staff of keeping us safe during Covid has been relentless.

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“Many are exhausted with no let-up in sight given the increase in hospital admissions and backlog of cancelled treatments. Others are traumatised from seeing patients die before their time – no one can comprehend the toll this has taken.

“Pay rates must rise soon or staff could leave. The Government needs to step in to help the NHS hold on to people. That means supporting their mental health as well as their financial wellbeing.

“To help avoid an exodus, ministers should extend psychological support and guarantee a decent pay increase.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “A dedicated 24/7 support service is already available to front line staff, and the NHS has invested £15m to provide dedicated mental health support, alongside practical and financial advice, and develop a national support service for critical care staff who are most vulnerable to severe trauma plus a host of other support options.

“We strongly encourage any staff who might be struggling to get the support they need by approaching a trusted colleague, their occupational health team, or by reaching out to helplines and support services.”

Holyrood rejects criticism of IndyRef2 planning during Covid

Parliament backs idea of planning another referendum despite Tory accusations that it is 'reckless and damaging'.

Jane Barlow via PA Media
Scottish Parliament passed SNP amendment.

The Scottish Parliament has backed the idea of planning another independence referendum despite accusations it is “reckless and damaging” to do so during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Scottish Conservatives said the SNP’s recent announcement of an independence taskforce and a route map for a vote on independence was “not just unfathomable, but unforgivable”.

But in a parliamentary debate, a Tory motion calling for the Scottish Government to create a vaccine taskforce rather than one to plan another referendum campaign was rejected by MSPs.

The failed motion called for Parliament to agree that “planning an independence referendum in 2021, during an ongoing global pandemic, would be reckless and damaging”.

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Instead, an SNP amendment stating “there can be no justification whatsoever to deny people in Scotland their democratic rights” if there is a pro-independence majority after May’s Holyrood election passed by 65 votes to 56

Opening the debate, the Scottish Conservatives’ health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “After everything Scotland has gone through and is still going through, it simply beggars belief that this Government thinks it’s right to talk about IndyRef2 at this point in time.

“For some completely unfathomable reason, the SNP have chosen the middle of a global pandemic as the right time to serialise their never-ending obsession with independence.

“That’s not just unfathomable, but unforgivable.”

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Urging the Government to focus on the vaccination programme, Cameron listed examples of appointment delays, discrepancies and apparent concern from GPs about the supply of the vaccine.

“All of this points to a disorganised rollout process with no clear direction or leadership and it also does not bode well for the future, when we get to the next priority groups in the coming weeks and months,” he said.

Cameron suggested it was “abundantly clear” Scots wanted the Government to “focus on rolling out vaccines, reducing the numbers of deaths and cases of Covid-19 and rebuilding our economy”.

He added: “Whatever your view on the constitutional debate, we urge the Scottish Government: pause, reflect and realise what is at stake if we take our eye off the ball at this critical juncture of the pandemic.

“Now is not the time to divide communities all over again.

“Instead, now is the time to unite people across this country, as we hopefully enter the final chapter of our collective struggle against the pandemic that has brought so much sadness across Scotland.”

Constitution Secretary Mike Russell defended the Government’s vaccine rollout amid concerns about delays and slow progress compared to the rest of the UK, and accused the Scottish Conservatives of having a “fear of democracy” over its opposition to an independence vote.

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“The Government is doing precisely what the motion calls for; we are tackling (the) pandemic, investing economic recovery, delivering a vaccination programme, which is saving lives and helping Scotland’s return to some form of normality over the coming months,” Russell said.

“Sadly the pandemic is not the only issue the country is having to deal with.

“The pandemic is an external crisis, but there’s another crisis that has been inflicted on us by the Tory UK government.

“The UK Tory insistence, backed by the Scottish Tories, on a reckless decision to press on with the end of the transition period for leaving the EU – even in the face of this unprecedented economic, social and health crisis – has caused, is causing, and will cause untold economic and social damage.”

Russell continued: “It is for the people of Scotland to decide what country and economy should be built following the pandemic.

“That is why, if there is in the next parliament a majority for an independence referendum that would allow us to become a normal small state within Europe, living in harmony and equity with our neighbours, then I believe that Parliament has an absolute right to take the matter forward. That’s democracy.”

Coronavirus: More than 600 deaths recorded since last week

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon held a moment of silence in memory of all those who have died during the pandemic.

Erlon Silva - TRI Digital via Getty Images

More than 600 deaths linked to coronavirus have been recorded in Scotland since last week.

At the Scottish Government’s briefing on Wednesday, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed a further 92 people have died after being diagnosed with Covid-19.

That takes the number of confirmed and suspected coronavirus deaths registered since January 18 to 631.

At least 111 of the deaths have occurred in care homes, according to statistics by National Records of Scotland (NRS).

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At the briefing, the First Minister held a moment of silence “in memory of all those who have died in this pandemic so far and in sympathy with all those left behind”.

The death toll of those who had tested positive stands at 5888, however weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by NRS suggest the most up-to-date total is at least 7902.

Total confirmed cases of the virus has risen to 175,332 – a jump of 1330 in the past 24 hours.

The daily test positivity rate is 6.2%, down from the 9% reported on Tuesday when 1049 cases were recorded.

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Of the new cases reported on Wednesday, 394 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, 245 are in Lanarkshire, and 135 are in Lothian.

The rest of the cases are spread out across nine other health board areas.

According to NHS boards across Scotland, 2016 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 – an increase of six overnight. Out of those, 145 patients are in intensive care.

The First Minister also confirmed that 462,092 Scots have now received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, an increase of 24,192 from the previous day.

The First Minister apologised for any mistakes made in response to the UK’s coronavirus death toll passing 100,000.

She said: “I know that I, and everyone in my government, have tried every day to do everything we possibly can.

“But I don’t think any of us, reflecting on numbers like these, can conclude that we have always succeeded.

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“And for any mistakes we have made, firstly I take responsibility for that, and I am – and I always will be – truly sorry for any mistakes we have made or for any reflections that we could have done things differently.”

On Wednesday, NRS revealed there were 448 deaths linked to Covid registered between January 18 and 24 – the highest number since last May.

Of these, the majority were in hospital at 294, with 111 in care homes, 35 at home or in a non-institutional setting, and eight in other institutions.

North Lanarkshire recorded the highest number of deaths at 48, followed by Glasgow City at 43 and Fife at 33.

NRS also reported that 72% of the deaths were of people aged 75 and over, with 14% under 65.

Pete Whitehouse, NRS director of statistical services, said: “Each statistic represents heartbreak for families and friends across the country.

“These latest figures show that the week ending January 24 has the highest number of Covid-19-related deaths registered since the week ending May 3, 2020.”


Sturgeon: Quarantine hotel plans do not go far enough

The First Minister has called for a 'comprehensive system of supervised quarantine'.

Hollie Adams / Stringer via Getty Images
Quarantine: Some travellers will have to self-isolate in hotels.

Nicola Sturgeon has said the Prime Minister’s plans for some travellers to quarantine after arriving in the UK do not go far enough.

Boris Johnson has set out measures to prevent the arrival of new strains of coronavirus into the UK, including plans for a ten-day quarantine in hotels or other Government-provided accommodation for travellers from high-risk countries.

The move will initially cover countries which are already subject to a travel ban due to concern over mutant strains, including South Africa, Portugal and South American nations.

But following a call with members of the UK, Welsh, and Northern Irish governments about the plan, Ms Sturgeon criticised the “minimal” proposals and said they leave “far too many weak points and gaps” for Covid-19 and any variants of the virus to enter the country.

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Speaking about the Prime Minister’s proposal, the Scottish First Minister said: “It’s probably the least that could be done on the issue of supervised quarantine.”

She said Scotland could diverge from a UK-wide approach to travel restrictions if the Westminster Government does not “go further”.

Speaking at her coronavirus briefing prior to Mr Johnson’s announcement of the new measures, Ms Sturgeon said: “I think I do have a duty at this point to say that I am concerned that the proposal does not go far enough and I’ve made that point very strongly in the four-nations discussions that we’ve just had today.

“So while the Scottish Government will initially emulate the UK Government’s steps on enhancing quarantine arrangements, we will be seeking urgently to persuade them to go much further and indeed to move to a comprehensive system of supervised quarantine.

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“Given the obvious practical issues involved, we are very clear that our preference is to have consistent quarantine rules across the UK, but if there is no agreement to go further on a four-nations basis, we will be considering going further ourselves and we will set out any such additional measures next week.

“If you impose [quarantine measures] purely for the countries where there is a travel ban in place, the very fact that there is already a travel ban in place tells you you’re going to be reaching very, very small numbers of people because nobody should be travelling from these countries even for essential purposes already.

“And if you focus just on countries with a variant has been identified – South Africa, or countries where it is known to have been identified – then you possibly miss countries where it has already travelled to but hasn’t yet been identified.

“When you’re trying to stop a virus getting into the country and, in particular, stop new variants getting into the country, you really have to have as comprehensive a protective ring as possible because the virus will find the holes in the net and it will get through the holes in the net.”

“We will try to encourage a four-nations approach that goes much further – much further.

“If we can’t reach that or we can’t reach that quickly enough, we will consider what it is practical for us to do it ourselves and we will set that out in the coming days.”

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Johnson said passengers arriving from red-list countries will be “met at the airport and transported directly into quarantine”.

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Setting out more details of the measures, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Despite the stay-at-home regulations we are still seeing people not complying with these rules.

“The rules are clear, people should be staying at home unless they have a valid reason to leave.

“Going on holiday is not a valid reason, so we will introduce a new requirement so that people wishing to travel must first make a declaration as to why they need to travel.

“This reason for travel will be checked by carriers prior to departure.”

Travel operators are expected to face fines if they fail to inspect these forms.

Snow to sweep across country as temperatures as low as -15

As much as 20cms could settle at high levels across the Highlands, Perthshire, Aberdeenshire, Stirlingshire and Argyll.

SNS Group via SNS Group


Many parts of Scotland are set to see a fresh blanket of snow over the next few days.

Dumfries and Galloway, the Borders and South Lanarkshire are likely to see a few centimetres of snow at higher levels by Thursday morning.

The weather system is then forecast to drift north of the central belt and across the Highlands, Perthshire, west Aberdeenshire, northern Stirlingshire and eastern Argyll, where as much as 20cms could settle by Friday morning above 200 metres.

This could lead to road closures, with roads such as the A9, A95, A96 and A939 at particular risk of seeing difficult conditions for a time.

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STV meteorologist Seán Batty said: “Scotland has now spent three weeks in the boundary between warmer air to the south and west and cold air to the north and east. As the dividing line between the two air masses has wavered back and forth over the weeks we’ve seen some fairly decent snowfalls in some spots.

“Over the next 24 hours, we’re going to see another attempt by the warmer air to try and push back the cold air, which will lead to another fall of snow. The initial risk overnight and into Thursday morning will be across central and southern Scotland, although mainly above 200 metres.

“If we get as much as 20cm by Friday morning in some of our higher villages there is a potential for them to be cut off as local roads become impassible.”

The mix of rain and hill snow is forecast to ease into Friday, leaving brighter and drier conditions for the weekend. However, some very low temperatures are expected at night with lows of -15C possible in the Highlands.

Seán said: “While this spell of cold weather has for the most part not been overly severe, it’s lasted for a good while now.

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“I’ve been looking through the stats for winter so far and somewhere in Scotland has reported a low of -5C or lower on 24 nights so far this winter, which is the most we’ve had since the severe cold of winter 2010/11.

“We will continue to see this battle between warm and cold air well into February, and with severe cold setting in over Scandinavia in the coming weeks, this will need close watching as an easterly air flow would bring it our way.”

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