Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 586

Issue # 586                                                        Week ending Saturday 9th  January  2021

Would You All Please Cheer Up and Put All of Your Faith in Truly Life-saving Vaccines by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Happy new year and all that jazz. Now let’s pretend it is December 2021. Nicola Sturgeon has just put Scotland in Tier 27. Scots will no longer be allowed to look out of their windows and no liquids should mix indoors. So drams should not be diluted with anything, just in case neat alcohol kills the virus. Even if it doesn’t, you will still feel a lot better after some liberal applications.

Meanwhile in Downing Street, Boris Johnson paces the floor wondering if any votes are at risk by putting England in Tier Five. I’m kidding about Nicola but Boris is still playing catch-up. No matter how many times it is pointed out he is too slow to act, he dithers. Despite the clamour for a proper lockdown, Boris did nothing until he saw the Scottish First Minister was going to make an announcement on Monday. Hours later, he spake unto the waiting nation - with a hastily-tweaked copy of Nicola’s speech.

I wish Mrs X would tweak her speech. Every time she goes shopping, she grills me: “What do you want.” I don’t know. Get me something tasty. “Yes, but what?”. What is this? The Spanish Inquisition? She happened to choose these spinach bites in the supermarket a few days ago and I was reluctant to try them. Spinach? Yu-uck. I am always encouraging her to eat fish so I had to at least nibble on them. Guess what? Fan-blinking-tastic. I really adore them. I mean Mrs X ... and her spinach acquisition.

Now Scotland has acquired another strict lockdown - except in the well-behaved and hygienic islands. Islanders won’t jump through hoops to get round the rules and jet off to Dubai. That one’s for the Celtic supporter who last week said I knew nothing about soccer.

When’s it all going to end? It’ll be fine. Difficult restrictions need to happen now to stop the worst possible scenario before the effect of the various vaccines feeds through to me and you. This pandemic may seem very new to some people but that’s because we don’t remember any others unless we’re very old. There have been quite a few. Seriously, it’s going to be OK.

They say writers shouldn’t make predictions. It could go badly wrong. I never make predictions. I never have and I never will. Oops, one right there. Another exception - I predict Prince Harry will always love going to the dentist. It’s the only place where he may one day get a crown.

Back to the late-1950s and the Asian flu threatened the world. It was quashed by vaccines. Brilliant but grumpy American virologist called Maurice Hilleman, often ignored in many official accounts of the greatest champions against disease, saw reports that one in 10 people in Singapore had flu. Realising it could soon be a pandemic, he confirmed the strain and he tweaked the vaccine he was already working on.

He screamed at, swore at and bullied the US Government and pharma outfits to get it out. Around 40 million doses were distributed in three months. Four million people died worldwide but he saved many others - about one million from measles alone. Hilleman developed an incredible 40 vaccines to prevent everything from measles, mumps, rubella, pneumonia, meningitis, hepatitis A and B, and other infectious diseases.

The bolshie Hilleman loathed the falseness of awards ceremonies, and he swore like someone from Shawbost. That was why his achievements weren’t properly recognised. President Ronnie Reagan eventually gave him a prestigious gong, the National Medal of Science. My point is the hard work of discovering and developing a jab was done by Hilleman, and others like him. They did the ground-breaking stuff so now it is a case of tweaking these proven vaccines each time that a particularly bad strain appears.

It is a particularly bad strain for me each year because I am always asked to make predictions about the coming year. I shall restrict my crystal ball gazing to domestic matters. Not that I am one to brag, but I have this amazing talent of predicting what is inside a wrapped present. You could say... it’s a gift.

Let’s be positive. This is going to be a great year. Another important lesson for life is also not to linger too long on what is behind us. As the wise Mrs X said to me on Christmas Eve: “Forget the past, you can’t change it. Forget the present, I didn’t get you one.”

Irish Boat Blocked From Fishing Off Rockall
An Irish fishing vessel has been blocked from entering waters around Rockall in the North Atlantic.  The Northern Celt, from County Donegal, was boarded by a Marine Scotland patrol boat on 4 January, Irish broadcaster RTÉ reports.  Its captain Adrian McClenaghan was told he can no longer fish within 12 nautical miles of the eroded volcano as a result of Brexit. The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs said it is aware of the incident. It said it has been in contact with UK and Scottish authorities.  A Scottish government spokesperson told RTÉ News: "One Irish vessel was routinely inspected outside of territorial waters around Rockall. "The master requested clarification on the access rights granted by his licence to fish in UK waters."  There is a long-running dispute over the sovereignty of Rockall, with the Republic of Ireland disputing the UK's claim over it.  In June 2019, former Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar said the fishing grounds around Rockall were part of EU waters. The comments were made in response to the Scottish government imposing a ban on Irish boats fishing within 12 nautical miles of the uninhabited island.  The dispute was resolved after an agreement between the Irish Department for Foreign Affairs and the UK Westminster government.  Rockall is situated about 230 nautical miles north-west off Ireland's Donegal coast.  The lucrative seabed around Rockall, rich in oil and gas possibilities as well as fish, has been the subject of rival claims from Ireland, Iceland and Denmark (on behalf of the Danish Faroe Islands).  The vessel boarded, the Northern Celt, is based in the Donegal town of Greencastle, and has been at sea since last week - but away from its normal fishing grounds around Rockall.  The Marine Scotland patrol boat, the Jura, has been in the area since 1 January, the day after the UK's Brexit transition period ended.  The Northern Celt was boarded as it prepared to cast its net.  Mr McClenaghan employs nine crew members and said the disputed waters account for around 30% of his annual catch.  A temporary licence was issued to the boat to fish in UK waters, with the stipulation that as a EU Vessel, it is not authorised to fish within 12 nautical miles of Rockall. The Scottish patrol vessel has remained in the area.

Covid in Scotland: How Do You Hold An Election During Lockdown?

Scotland has entered a new Covid-19 lockdown, but is also preparing to go to the polls in just a few months time. How can an election take place during a pandemic, and what plans are in place?  To start with, yes. Many countries have held elections already during the pandemic. Some, like New Zealand, have had relatively few cases of coronavirus to contend with. But others, like the US, have successfully conducted ballots while in the grip of nationwide outbreaks.  There have even been a number of council by-elections in Scotland over the past year, from Edinburgh and Aberdeen to the Western Isles.  Yes, they featured a far smaller turnout than is expected in May - but they provide vital experience for returning officers in terms of the ease of finding polling places and recruiting staff in the present conditions.  The Holyrood election is not the only one due in the UK this spring, either - there are also elections to the Welsh Assembly and a host of local council and mayoralty contests across England.  As it stands, everyone is still planning for an election on Thursday 6 May.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says she can "see no reason at this stage" why it should have to be delayed, despite the fact the vaccination programme will still be ongoing come polling day. Any change would be a decision for Holyrood as a whole, rather than the government. However the principal opposition party - the Conservatives - have backed Ms Sturgeon's position.  MSPs have introduced contingency plans which would allow the vote to be pushed back by up to six months - either by a vote of parliament, or in the most extreme circumstances via a decree from Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh. But the hope is that the combination of the vaccine and the other backup plans that have been put in place will be enough for the vote to go ahead safely.  Any delay would likely have implications across the UK, with the races mentioned above in mind - polling and politics guru Prof Sir John Curtice has suggested that a joint approach may ultimately be taken in Cardiff, Edinburgh and London if there are to be any changes.  Voting by post is expected to be a big feature of the coming election - but current plans would not allow for everyone to mail in their ballots.  It was already a growing trend - 3.6% of the electorate registered for a postal vote in 2003, then 11.2% in 2007, 14.1% in 2011, and 17.7% in 2016 - and surveys suggest more Scots than ever will want to take the socially-distant option to cast their vote in 2021.  At present only 17% of the electorate have signed up for a postal ballot, but officials are braced for this to surge to up to 40% once campaigning gets under way - with parties expected to urge their supporters to sign up en masse.  The challenge will be what happens if an even greater number than that apply. The deadline for postal registrations has already been brought forward to provide time to process the expected wave of applications.  If, say, half of the electorate were to ask for a postal ballot, the Electoral Management Board have voiced fears the election would have to be pushed back in order to get through the paperwork.  And they say an all-postal election likely would not be possible until November, such would be the burden of signing up all 4.2m Scottish voters to the system.  One contingency plan on the table is to hold polling across more than one day - potentially even with different age groups voting on different days.  Several parties - Labour, the Greens and Lib Dems - have voiced cautious support for multi-day polling. However the Election Management Board have stated a preference for voting on a single date, and both the SNP and Tories are behind that position.  Another consideration is where votes are cast. For the most part, there are few concerns about polling places becoming the epicentre of new outbreaks - they are highly regulated environments at the best of times, and officials say they would pose no more risk than a supermarket.  However, the Electoral Commission have said they might reconsider using schools as polling places, particularly if voting does take place over more than one day, due to the risk of disrupting education still further.  Within polling places, more stations where voters can cast their ballot may be set up, to reduce queues - which would require extra staff to be taken on.  One final question applies to when votes might be counted. Talks have been held about whether the traditional overnight count - with staff packed into community centres and gym halls - would go ahead as normal, or whether results could be tallied at a more sedate pace the following day.  The election campaign is due to officially begin in March - although arguably some parties have already been in campaign mode for some time now.  It seems highly unlikely that social distancing guidelines will have been relaxed enough by then for politicians to go out shaking hands and kissing babies. Indeed there have been complaints in some quarters about candidates going out knocking on doors during selection contests, so the traditional "boots on the ground" approach will likely take a back seat to the "air war" of wider messaging.  The US election is likely to be instructive - Joe Biden managed to win the presidency despite rarely leaving the house.  One final wrinkle is that this year, MSPs will likely still be MSPs right up to polling day.  Normally in an election year, Holyrood would shut down in late March. However this year "dissolution" is likely to be delayed until the day before polling, in case parliament needs to be recalled in an emergency.  This is mostly a technical matter - Holyrood would be in recess, so members wouldn't be prevented from campaigning - but would mean members were bound by the MSPs code of conduct throughout the election period.

Nicola Sturgeon: 'Donald Trump Should Not Visit Scotland to Golf'

Scotland's first minister says Donald Trump shouldn't travel to the country to play golf.  Commenting on reports that the US president may be planning such a trip, Nicola Sturgeon said only essential travel was allowed because of the coronavirus pandemic.  There has been media speculation that Mr Trump may be planning a trip to Scotland to avoid attending the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on 20 January.  Mr Trump owns golf resorts in both Ayrshire and Aberdeenshire.  The White House has not confirmed the president's plans for the date.

'Stay At Home' Order Comes Into Force
Tough new lockdown restrictions forbidding people from leaving home for non-essential reasons have come into force across the Scottish mainland.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the clampdown was necessary to contain the spread of the new strain of Covid-19. People are now required by law to stay in their homes and to work from home. Outdoor gatherings have been restricted to one-on-one meet-ups, and schools will close to most pupils until February at the earliest.  Ms Sturgeon told MSPs on Monday that Scotland faced an "extremely serious" situation, with the new, faster-spreading variant of coronavirus "a massive blow".  Schools will remain closed to most pupils until at least the beginning of February.  The first minister has said she cannot guarantee when children will be allowed back in classrooms or when the latest lockdown restrictions will be lifted.  She also said that she hoped 2.7 million people in Scotland would have received one dose of the Covid vaccine by the middle of May. She said: "I can't be definitive right now about when we will lift these restrictions.  I have described this as a race - we've got the vaccine in one lane and we are trying to accelerate that.  We've got the virus which has learned to run faster in the other lane and we've got to slow it down. Lockdown is about pushing rates of the virus back, and if we manage to do that then hopefully we will be able to start lifting restrictions while the vaccination programme is ongoing."  A government document revealed there were now more than 90 patients in intensive care units, with new modelling suggesting that figure could more than double by early February. The modelling sets out different scenarios with the most pessimistic predicting hospitals admissions could soar to more than 8,000 with over 700 patients requiring intensive care.  The document also revealed that Inverclyde - which a few weeks ago had relatively low levels of Covid - now has the highest case rate, almost 550 per 100,000.   Dundee City, East Ayrshire, East Renfrewshire, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and the Scottish Borders all now have case rates exceeding 300 per 100,000. Only limited data was released by the government in recent days but a full update on deaths, hospital admissions and local infection rates has now been issued. The new restrictions came into force at midnight and are, in effect, an enhancement to the level four curbs already in place across the mainland and Skye.  They will run until at least the end of January and could yet be extended both in scope and duration.  Scotland's island communities, with the exception of Skye, are to remain in level three for now, although Ms Sturgeon warned this would also remain under review.  New regulations mean Scots are prohibited from leaving their homes for anything other than "essential" purposes - although the law provides a lengthy list of examples of "reasonable excuses".  These include shopping for food or medical supplies, providing or accessing childcare, exercise, and participation in extended households. Anyone who can do their job from home must do so, and people in the "shielding" category have been advised not to go out to work at all.  New restrictions have been placed on outdoor gatherings in level four areas, with only two people from separate households now permitted to meet up. These restrictions do not include children under the age of 12, who are still allowed to gather to play, but everyone else must abide by them or face a fixed penalty notice.  Travel restrictions remain in place between local authority areas and in and out of Scotland, and people have been urged to stay as close to home as possible when going out for exercise.  Schools will now operate on a remote-learning basis for the majority of pupils when the new term starts on 11 January, with only the children of key workers and vulnerable children to receive face-to-face teaching.  The new measures are a bid to control the spread of the new variant of Covid, which is now thought to be responsible for nearly half of all new cases of the virus in Scotland.

Pair Caught with Cocaine Worth Nearly £6m Near Ecclefechan

Two drug couriers were caught bringing cocaine with a maximum street value of almost £6m into Scotland.  David Murdoch, 56, of Linwood, and Graham McCulloch, 39, of Airdrie, were stopped by police on the A74(M) in southern Scotland in May last year.  They admitted being concerned in supplying the drug in London, Kent and Ecclefechan in Dumfriesshire. At the High Court in Glasgow, they were remanded in custody and sentence was deferred to 4 February.  They also pled guilty to having hundreds of thousands of pounds in cash in their possession.  The court heard that Murdoch was driving a van and McCulloch a BMW car when they were stopped by police near Ecclefechan on 19 May last year.  Prosecutor Paul Kearney said: "The accused accept that they each engaged in a course of conduct which involved the transporting and delivering of very large quantities of cocaine and the means of payment for the consignments.  On the final two days of that period, one of these consignments of cocaine, weighing 59 kg, plus £409,595 and €289,500 were recovered from the car and van being used by them.  "They accept joint responsibility for the drugs and cash seized."  The maximum value of the cocaine, which was of high purity, was between £4,720,000 and £5,900,000.  The court was told that a tip-off to the Metropolitan Police put them on the trail of the pair.   They were put under surveillance and their operations tracked in London, Kent and Surrey before ultimately being stopped in Scotland.  When the van being driven by Murdoch was searched it was found to have a hidden area at the back where about 52kg (115lbs) of cocaine was concealed.  A search of the BMW found about 7kg (15lbs) of the drug and a suitcase containing hundreds of thousands of pounds and euros. Defence counsel Tony Lenehan said: "Mr Murdoch is a professional lorry driver and the two of them were recruited to courier the drugs.  "Mr Murdoch made about eight trips south of the border."  Judge Lady Stacey deferred sentence on the two men for background reports.

First Doses of Oxford Vaccine Administered
The first Scottish recipients of the new Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine have received their jabs.  James Shaw, 82, and his 82-year-old wife Malita were among the first to be vaccinated in Dundee.  The couple received their first doses at Lochee Health and Community Care Centre.  Nicola Sturgeon has said she hoped all over-50s and those with underlying health conditions will have been vaccinated by early May.  James said: "My wife and I are delighted to be receiving this vaccination. I have asthma and bronchitis and I have been desperate to have it so I am really pleased to be one of the first to be getting it.  I know it takes a little while for the vaccine to work but after today I know that I will feel a bit less worried about going out. I will still be very careful and avoid busy places but knowing I have been vaccinated will really help me.  All of my friends have said they are going to have the vaccine when it is their turn and I would encourage everyone who is offered this vaccination to take it."  The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine programme is being rolled out less than a week after it was approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). It is the second vaccine approved for use in the UK.  NHS Tayside is rolling out the vaccine through GP practices in the community and will also vaccinate elderly residents and staff in care homes.  Its associate director of public health Dr Daniel Chandleris said: "The efforts of our vaccination teams have been amazing and it is testament to a real whole team approach that sees the first over-80s in the general population have their jabs today in Tayside.  The availability and mobility of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine gives us the opportunity to start to roll out the biggest vaccine programme that the UK has ever seen across our communities. Over-80s are the first priority group and patients will be contacted directly to attend a vaccination session."  Statistics released on Monday showed a further 1,905 people had contracted Covid-19. Ms Sturgeon likened the situation to a race between the vaccine and the virus. She said: "In one lane we have vaccines - our job is to make sure they run as fast as possible.  But in the other lane is the virus which - as a result of this new variant - has just learned to run much faster and has most definitely picked up pace in the last couple of weeks. To ensure that the vaccine wins the race, it is essential to speed up vaccination as far as possible. But to give it the time it needs to get ahead, we must also slow the virus down." The new vaccine will initially be available in the hospitals that have been delivering the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, and new community settings will be able to deliver the jabs from 11 January.  People in Scotland will be contacted by their health board when it is their turn to be vaccinated. Scotland will ultimately get an 8.2% share of these vaccines, based on its population.

What is the Oxford-Astrazeneca Vaccine?
The UK Westminster government has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, following the roll-out of the Pfizer vaccine, which was the first to be approved.  It is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus (known as an adenovirus) from chimpanzees. It has been modified to look more like coronavirus - although it can't cause illness.  When the vaccine is injected into a patient, it prompts the immune system to start making antibodies and primes it to attack any coronavirus infection.  Unlike Pfizer's jab - which has to be kept at an extremely cold temperature (-70C) - the Oxford vaccine can be stored in a normal fridge. This makes it much easier to distribute.  Oxford University researchers had already done a lot of work before 2020 on developing a vaccine which could be adapted to tackle different diseases.  That meant a lot of the building blocks were already in place, and scientists weren't starting from scratch.  The vaccine has been through all the usual research stages, although for speed these have overlapped when they would usually happen one after another.  And the UK's medicines regulator - the MHRA - carried out a "rolling review" of data all last year.  The vaccine was approved for use by the MHRA on 30 December and the first doses were given five days later.  To start with, six hospital trusts - in Oxford, London, Sussex, Lancashire and Warwickshire - are administering the vaccine, with 530,000 doses ready for use.  Most other available doses will be sent to hundreds of GP-led services and care homes across the UK later in the week, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).  The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been shown to be safe and to provoke an immune response in people of all ages, including the over-55s.  And as with the other vaccines, scientists don't yet know if it stops people catching Covid - that's something they won't know until they can see the impact of vaccination over time.  Trials showed the Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective, but there were differences in the way the trials were carried out, so directly comparing the two results is difficult.  And it's important to remember that even the lower 62% figure is a better result than the best flu jab, which is about 50% effective.  What is more, no-one who received the Oxford vaccine was hospitalised or became seriously ill due to Covid. How long does it protect against Covid for?  As with all the vaccines being developed against coronavirus, we don't know yet.  It may be that people need annual vaccinations, as happens with the flu jab. You will not be given a choice about which vaccine you get.  Recommendations on which groups get the vaccine are made by the JCVI - the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunology - an independent group of scientists.  There are nine priority groups, amounting to more than 25 million people.  The over 80s, care home residents and front-line health and care staff are being offered the jabs first.  It will then be rolled out to other groups including all the over 50s and younger adults with health conditions.

Church Closures 'Unfair' and 'Lacking Evidence', Say Bishops
Church leaders have criticised the Scottish government's decision to close places of worship as "unfair".  Scotland's Catholic Bishops said public worship was a human right and provided an "essential contribution" to people's spiritual welfare.  The organisation highlighted that the UK Westminster government had chosen not to take similar measures.  The first minister said the decision was taken to reduce the places people have been coming together. Church services have been taking place in Scotland since July, after an initial closure last March.  They were shut again on Friday with the exception of funeral services (up to a maximum of 20 people) and weddings (maximum of five).  In a statement released on Tuesday, Scotland's Catholic Bishops said they were "perplexed" by the measure when churches had taken "stringent measures" to ensure public safety.  They said: "No evidence has been forthcoming to justify the inclusion of places of worship as sources of infection. Without such scientific evidence these restrictions will appear to Catholics to be arbitrary and unfair. Moreover, a significant number of other sectors similarly restricted last March alongside public worship - such as construction, manufacturing and elite sports - have now been left free to continue in operation.  We are very aware of the disappointment these closures will cause not only to our own Catholic community, but to many of our fellow Christians and those of other faiths in Scotland."  In England and Wales communal worship and funerals can continue. The Northern Ireland executive is meeting to discuss further coronavirus rules. During her daily media briefing, Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged the difference in decision-making, but said Scotland had decided to act "much earlier" in the curve of this wave.  "I know how horrible, tough and distressing this will be for many people," she said. "All I would ask people to understand is that none of this is being done lightly. I have no interest in closing anywhere if it is not necessary to do.  We all have a tendency to look for what's the evidence about why the virus is transmitting here or there, or not here but there. Actually it's much more straightforward than that. This virus transmits when people come together and therefore we have to reduce as far as possible the places where people are coming together."

100 Years of Glasgow's the Barras

This year The Barras, in Glasgow's east end, celebrates its centenary. The Barras, once the largest open-air market in Europe, started off as just one "barra" - the Glaswegian word for "barrow'", the handcarts from which traders sold their wares- in 1921, belonging to Maggie McIver.  Later the McIver family expanded their business by opening a dance hall upstairs. For decades The Barras thrived, and until the 1980s it was the only place you could shop on a Sunday. However, Sunday opening, supermarkets and car boot sales took their toll on markets like The Barras and some thought it may not reach its centenary year. Numbers have slowly risen again despite the coronavirus pandemic and The Barras plans to mark the 100 years with a series of events when they can.

Ice and Snow Weather Warning for All of Scotland

Scotland is preparing for more ice and snow with a yellow weather warning covering the whole country. The band of rain, sleet and snow will move south overnight, affecting all areas by tomorrow morning.  A few centimetres of snow is expected to lie everywhere. This could be up to 10cm deep on higher ground. The Met Office alert is in place from 15:00 on Wednesday until midnight on Friday. Road and rail journeys are likely to be affected, with a risk of injury on untreated roads and pavements. Temperatures are forecast to reach lows of -3C.  BBC Scotland Weather presenter Christopher Blanchet said: "Anyone needing to travel tonight or tomorrow will be faced with challenging conditions.  Some disruption to transport is likely and higher road routes will see significant amounts of snow. Ice will be a big concern.  The weather we're expecting is not unusual for Scotland in January and the usual warning for the risk of slips, falls and icy roads is in place."  The weather warning comes after the UK had its coldest night of the winter so far on Tuesday.  A temperature of -12.3C was recorded at Loch Glascarnoch in the north west Highlands.

Plea From NHS As Covid Hotspots in the Highlands Revealed

A significant spike in the number of Covid cases across the Highlands has resulted in the health board calling on communities to step up their efforts in the fight against the pandemic. NHS Highland is appealing to people across the Highlands and Argyll and Bute to follow the rules as it reveals an array of virus hotspots. There has been a significant increase in the number of positive Covid tests across the NHS Highland board area over the last two weeks, with 83 in the last 24 hours alone.  Inverness, Beauly, Dingwall, Invergordon, Alness and Caithness have been highlighted as particular areas of concern.  More than 700 new cases have been recorded since Christmas Eve, which has resulted in health officials encouraging people to continue to follow national guidance on social distancing, self-isolation and mixing indoors.  Pre-Christmas socialising, combined with people mixing indoors during the festive period, is being blamed for the sharp rise in cases.

An Expert is Urging Scots Not to Drink Booze Shortly Before and After Receiving the Coronavirus Vaccine.

Dr Fiona Sim, who is Chief Medical Advisor to the independent alcohol education charity Drinkaware, said vaccine patients should avoid the drink at least two days before and two weeks after getting the jab.  The period of sobriety is to ensure that the immune system is “at its best” to respond to the vaccine and to give the best chance at full protection, she said. Little data has so far been published on effects that alcohol has on the human body’s response to the vaccine.  But there is evidence that regular heavy drinking can impact your body’s ability to build an immune response against Covid-19. Dr Sim said: “If you are a regular heavy drinker, the risks to you of becoming seriously ill if you do contract Covid-19 are particularly high, so please do keep your appointment for vaccination if you are offered one.  Chronic heavy drinking reduces immune protection, and specifically for respiratory infections, which includes Covid-19. For greatest benefit from the vaccine, it is prudent for you not to drink any alcohol for a few days before, and for at least two weeks after, you've been vaccinated. And if you do contract Covid-19, please do not drink any alcohol until you have recovered fully, to protect your immune system to allow it to fight the virus, as well as minimising the risk of serious liver disease in the longer term.”

Covid: Surgery Suspended As Dumfries and Galloway Cases Surge
A "massive surge" of Covid cases in Dumfries and Galloway has prompted the suspension of some surgery at the region's hospitals.  Health officials said they had made the "very difficult decision" to halt some elective operations.  The number of Covid cases has risen sharply in the region with many of them the new, more transmissible strain.  NHS Dumfries and Galloway said it was facing a challenge "unlike anything we have confronted to date".  The health board said the number of cases had multiplied more than six times in a single week with nearly 90% of them a new, more highly transmissible strain - compared with a national average of about 54%.  Valerie White, interim director of public health, said: "The impact of this new variant is a complete and dramatic game changer.  The latest data shows the new variant accounts for nearly 90% of our cases tested through the mobile testing units. In the space of just two or three short weeks, we've seen Dumfries and Galloway with its population of about 150,000 people move from being a region with some of the lowest rates of Covid to being near the top across the whole of Scotland in terms of infection rates."

Covid in Scotland: Travellers Need to Show Negative Test

International travellers will soon be required to show a negative Covid test result to get into Scotland. People arriving by plane, train or boat will have to take a test up to 72 hours before leaving the country they are in.  No start date for the policy has been announced but Nicola Sturgeon has suggested it will come into effect from the end of next week.  The measures will be in addition to quarantine rules and there are some exemptions, such as for hauliers. Travel to and from other UK nations and Ireland is not affected by the change but is already covered by laws which prevent journeys for all but "essential purposes".  The first minister said the change was coming because "risks of international travel are particularly acute at the moment" with new strains of Covid. She added: "People travelling to Scotland from overseas will be required to present a negative Covid test result, before they embark upon their journey.  The tests will require to be highly reliable - in terms of their specificity and sensitivity - and so in practice they are likely to be PCR tests and they will need to be taken, no more than 72 hours before people start travelling to Scotland." Full details for testing arrivals into Scotland have still to be released but the UK Westminster government has announced that anyone who arrives in England - including UK nationals - and has not got proof of a negative test could face an immediate £500 fine. Prof Linda Bauld, of Edinburgh University, said the move to test international arrivals was long overdue as the UK had "really struggled from the beginning" with limiting the impact of international travel on the pandemic. She said: "Most of us have been looking for this for a while to be frank, we are one of the last countries, certainly in Europe, to actually introduce this."

Nicola Sturgeon Threatens More Lockdown Laws

Nicola Sturgeon has threatened more lockdown laws as the country continues its battle against coronavirus. The First Minister warned sectors including construction and takeaways may be targeted with more "legal and regulatory footing" to tighten stay at home restrictions. It comes as Scotland recorded its highest ever number of Covid deaths and hospital admissions in a single day - rocketing past peak figures from last spring. Speaking at her daily Covid briefing on Friday (8th ), Ms Sturgeon said she is looking at restricting click and collect services, takeaways and non-essential construction. She said: "If we feel that we need to put any more of that on a legal, regulatory footing we will do so because we cannot afford to have restrictions in place right now that are not working effectively enough to stem the flow of the virus." She added: "My message to everybody is please respect this lockdown with the same seriousness you did last March. It is as serious now. Indeed, you could argue that with the faster spreading strain of the virus it is even more important that we all respect the lockdown ".

Covid Deaths in Scotland 'Distressingly High'

Scotland's hospitals have more Covid patients than ever before - with the number of deaths also "distressingly high", the first minister has said. The latest figures showed that the deaths of 93 people who had tested positive for the virus have been recorded in the past 24 hours. There were also 1,530 people in hospital with the virus, higher than the peak of 1,520 last April. Of these, 102 patients were in intensive care - with Ms Sturgeon saying the statistics showed the "severity of the pressure" that hospitals are facing.  The 93 deaths recorded on Friday is the highest daily figure since the outbreak began - with the previous high being 84 on 15 April.  A further 2,309 people have tested positive for Covid-19, which was 8.1% of the tests carried out on Thursday and takes the total number of cases in Scotland to 146,024. The figures mean that the total number of people in Scotland who have died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus now stands at 4,872.