The NHS Grampian area and Scotland as a whole have made excellent progress in recent days with vaccination rates, at one point vaccinating a higher proportion of the public in seven days than any other European country.
Having spent the early weeks of the year taking the time to ensure that those most vulnerable and hard to reach in the community received the vaccine first in line with scientific advice, at the time of writing close to 100% of older care home residents and over 80’s in Scotland have received their first dose, along with 99% of 79 to 79-year-olds and 85% of 70 to 74-year-olds. In all, 1.25 million Scots and rising have now received their first dose.
Although the present rate may slow in the weeks ahead due to anticipated supply issues, Scotland’s programme is firmly on track and in line with what was always intended. While I can appreciate the frustration in some communities at the move to larger vaccination centres such as the one at TECA, those larger sites really do make a difference when it comes to ensuring that as many people as possible can be vaccinated as quickly as possible.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, there will always be inconsistencies and glitches in any operation of this scale. If anyone has any queries about the vaccination process, NHS Grampian has set up a website at www.covidvaxgrampian.com , while NHS Inform has also set up a free helpline (0800 030 8013) in order to help with any general advice on the virus and the vaccine.
I’ve been continuing to contribute virtually in Parliament. My first official ‘outing’ as my party’s Westminster Spokesman on Northern Ireland came in an urgent question about the ‘protocol’ which now exists so as to ensure the integrity of the EU’s single market for goods while avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
I also spoke in support of a sadly unsuccessful move to prevent the UK Government from removing VAT-free shopping for tourists and travellers. While it might seem like a niche issue, it’s one that is hugely important to the tourism, manufacturing and retail sectors, given its removal puts some 40,000 jobs and over £1 billion-worth of investment on the line.
There’s a particular North East dimension to this as well. Tax-free shopping supports 45 jobs and £1.6m of revenues at Aberdeen Airport – revenues which are crucial to the ability of Aberdeen and other airports to recover and help re-establish routes post-Covid.
Without those revenues, there will likely be fewer passengers, fewer routes, fewer jobs and fewer opportunities for wider economic development outside our airport perimeter fences, hindering growth and in consequence, delivering lower tax revenues overall for the Government. The beneficiaries will inevitably be tourist destinations and airports overseas.
David Lonsdale, the director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, has said of the move:
“This decision would leave the UK as the only European country not to provide a tax-free shopping scheme to encourage tourism. There is a good reason no other European nation has taken this step, and we urge swift reconsideration.” I can only hope the Chancellor belatedly takes heed.