Council ‘fury’ over Edinburgh’s level 3 status

Council leaders in Edinburgh and Midlothian say they are “furious” that restrictions have been kept in level three despite expectations they would be dropped to level two.

There had been speculation that falling numbers of Covid cases would see rules relaxed in both areas.

Both are now seeking urgent talks with the Scottish government.

However, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stressed the need to take a “cautious approach” in the run-up to Christmas.

At the weekly review, all 11 areas under Scotland’s toughest level four restrictions were downgraded to level three after infection rates fell.

Inverclyde, Falkirk and Angus were told they would drop to level two.

And both Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders will move to level one from level two when the new levels begin on Friday.

All other council areas were told they would remain in their current level.

Council leader Adam McVey, who also leads the authority’s SNP group, said: “I’m extremely disappointed. Our numbers are stable and have now been consistently within the rates of level two for some time.

“We know what a dire situation local businesses continue to face and the latest news will be yet another blow in the lead-up to the Christmas period – which should be their busiest time of the year.

“I’ve been strongly pressing for Edinburgh’s case to move to a lower level of restrictions when safe to do so. The data suggests that time should have been now.”

‘Absolutely furious’
Deputy leader Cammy Day, the council’s Labour group leader, shared his anger with BBC Radio Scotland’s Drivetime with John Beattie: “I am furious. Absolutely furious that we have remained on tier three when we have consistently sat within the criteria set by the government for tier two for at least the last week.

“The numbers in Edinburgh are lower than those in Aberdeen and Falkirk, yet they remain in tier two.

“I also don’t respect the comments that the deputy first minister [John Swinney] made that he does understand the impact on the business community. I think he doesn’t understand the business community and the community of Edinburgh who have for the last few weeks and months entirely adhered to the conditions set by the government. “

Should Edinburgh be in level two?
Edinburgh’s case numbers began to rise fast in the second half of September and peaked at about 160 weekly cases per 100,000 people at the beginning of October.

However, by the time the Covid levels system was introduced on 2 November, the rate had declined to about half that and well below the level three threshold rate of 150.

It has since gone below the level two threshold, though the figure was rising slightly at the end of last week.

The Scottish government also considers the percentage of tests coming back positive when judging what level a local authority should be in, and Edinburgh’s “positivity rate” has been lower than the Scotland-wide rate since mid-October.

According to the latest Scottish government evidence paper, the number of Covid-19 patients is forecast to rise in the coming weeks, but not to go above capacity.

Russell Imrie from Midlothian Council echoed the feelings of his council neighbours.

He said: “My first reaction was bewilderment and then utter anger. Not for me but for all these businesses that were expecting two weeks ago to be going into tier two.

“We are still within the numbers. There are other authorities sitting at double the number of cases that were in tier four and are now dropping to tier three. How can that be fair?”

‘Getting punished’
He had this message for the Scottish government: “You should have thought twice about giving people five days off (from 23 to 27 December) and for us to be paying for it because all I can see is both Edinburgh and Midlothian are getting punished because we are going for a five-day break that we all know is more or less open sesame to the numbers going up in January – what a price to pay for all our businesses in Edinburgh and Midlothian.”

During her speech in the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged coronavirus levels were “relatively low” in the capital, but said cases had “risen slightly in recent days”.

With the festive season approaching, the first minister added that a “move to level two in Edinburgh would mean opening up significantly more services in Scotland’s second biggest city in the two weeks before Christmas”.

She said: “That move would carry significant risk of increased transmission. For that reason, we want as much assurance as possible that the situation is as stable as possible before making that move.”

Ms Sturgeon said the situation would be considered again next week.