Responding to the COVID Omicron Variant

Dec 15, 2021

Yesterday in the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister announced a number of additional measures that will be introduced in response to the spread of the Omicron variant.

At the briefing the First Minister outlined that cases of Omicron are increasing exponentially – faster than any other variant to date – and that it will become the dominant strain within days. As Omicron is significantly more transmissible, infection numbers are likely to increase and, as a result, there will be a significantly increased impact on the NHS, the economy and critical services.

The First Minister said that we are once again in a race between the virus and the vaccine. Although vaccines continue to offer the best protection against the virus – in the short term – we need to go further.

Therefore, in addition to the safety measures already in place, the First Minister announced that the Scottish Government:

  • will amend regulations to place a legal requirement on those running businesses or providing services to take measures which are reasonably practicable to minimise the risk of transmission
  • is asking everyone to reduce as far as possible the contacts we have with people in other households
  • is asking that if we do plan on socialising – either at home or in indoor public places – that we limit the number of households in the group to a maximum of three, and to take a lateral flow test before meeting 
  • is accelerating the vaccination programme so that by 31 December everyone over 18 will have been able to book a booster jab appointment
  • will be reinforcing the rules and public health messaging on the importance of wearing face coverings, hygiene and ventilation
  • will make it a legal requirement for businesses to facilitate working from home, wherever practical.

The message from the First Minister was very clear – the emergence of Omicron makes this a very difficult time for us all – every individual and organisation is being asked to do all they can slow the Omicron variant down.

Throughout the pandemic the SCTS response has been guided by three key priorities – these are as valid now as they have ever been:

  • support the public health response – protecting the life and safety of all justice system users, the judiciary and staff
  • maintain all essential business so far as possible – ensuring cases are not lost 
  • minimise accumulation of case backlogs so far as possible – to facilitate the most effective recovery.

Our commitment remains that anyone who needs to visit or work in our premises will be able to do so safely. Therefore, in response to the latest public health guidance, we are making a number of changes to supplement the strong baseline safety measures that we already have in place.

Returning to two metre physical distancing

We are immediately commencing the move from one metre to two metre physical distancing in all SCTS buildings in order to provide the safest possible environment for everyone who works in and needs to use our buildings – this is in response to the increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant.  By maintaining two metre distancing we are minimising the potential for there to be close contacts of cases identified on our premises and making it less likely that outbreaks will occur.

Achieving the complete move to 2m physical distancing will take a number of days as we rearrange layouts and signage. However, it is an environment that has worked successfully previously and we are taking steps now to achieve 2m physical distancing where possible as we finalise arrangements.

Reducing footfall in our buildings

From Monday 20 December we will start implementing revised arrangements across our courts and tribunals to reduce footfall in our buildings. These will include:

  • limiting physical attendance at a range of criminal procedural hearings
  • reducing summary criminal trial loadings in order to manage the number of accused, legal representatives and witnesses who need to be on the premises at any one point in time and
  • reverting to a virtual model for the majority of civil and tribunal business.

We will shortly publish revised court guidance confirming the new arrangements.

These measures are being introduced due to the increased transmissibility of Omicron and will be kept under regular review. By taking these steps now we should be able to continue to run the majority of our business over the coming period in the safest possible environment.

Please take a Lateral Flow test before coming to our buildings

In addition, we would like to remind everyone working in or visiting our buildings to test regularly using lateral flow devices (LFD’s). The First Minister’s advice was very clear: lateral flow tests should be taken before mixing with others. These tests provide an additional tool to establish if a person has COVID-19 but is not displaying any symptoms. We strongly encourage everyone entering our buildings to take a lateral flow test every time before doing so.  This will help protect everyone visiting or working in our buildings.

Lateral flow tests are free and can be sent to your home, collected from your nearest test site or picked up from your nearest participating pharmacy. Please help us to support the public health response and reduce the risk of transmission of the virus on the premises by taking lateral flow tests.

Thank you for your support

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, we rely on, and appreciate everyone’s ongoing co-operation to enable us to continue to support justice, despite the challenging circumstances that COVID-19 presents. Please continue to keep your guard up and follow the Government’s baseline safety measures, set out below.

Scottish Government baseline safety measures

In we will continue to rigorously maintain the safety measures established across our estate:

  • We encourage everyone to respect personal space and maintain at least 2m physical distancing in all our buildings
  • We continue to encourage good hand hygiene, maintain enhanced surface cleaning – especially of high touch-point areas – and maintain good ventilation in line with relevant guidance
  • The legal requirement for face coverings to be worn in our buildings is still in place
  • Our “Safe2Go” contact system continues to require all those accessing our buildings to check-in and check-out using the system
  • General public access to our buildings will continue to be restricted and public counters remain closed
  • We continue to support home working arrangements wherever possible.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic, we will keep our approach under regular review in line with public health guidance and will provide updates as and when there are any developments or changes required.

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