Covid looms over COP26

While at least 25,000 delegates are flying in to attend the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland’s covid cases are a tenth of that number, standing at 2,566 new cases and 27 deaths as of Wednesday 27 October. 

Of course, compared to England’s 43,922 cases on the same day, Scotland’s covid cases don’t even come close, but nevertheless, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted in the official coronavirus update on Tuesday 26 October that it is inevitable that cases will increase following the summit. 

To keep the event safe, several restrictions are in place, the first being that delegates will be tested every day. Regardless of vaccination status, proof of a negative rapid lateral flow test is required to enter the conference’s Blue Zone. The COP26 covid rules also call for all attendees “to comply with the testing regime, which includes pre-departure testing”. 

In addition, like all travellers flying into the UK, everyone will be required to fill out a Passenger Locator Form prior to arrival. 

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Quarantine rules apply for some – those who are unvaccinated must quarantine for 10 days, along with those from red list countries (Columbia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru, Venezuela). 

Meanwhile, attendees do not have to use the Scottish vaccine passport app, but Test, Trace and Isolate protocols will be put into place. Unlike in England, masks are still mandatory in Scotland, and therefore all delegates will be wearing masks in indoor settings. 

Why the carefulness around covid safety at COP26? 

It is unclear what impact the global summit will have on covid cases. Experts are divided on the winter forecasts. 

On a positive note, experts claim that cases could decrease dramatically this winter, although this is dependent on a few conditions, including the vast majority of those aged over 50 receiving their booster jabs, and the public following covid guidelines and being cautious while socialising. 

However, the reality remains that as of now, the UK has one of the highest covid infection rates, not just in Europe, but in the world, as it records close to 50,000 new cases a day. 

The lack of wearing masks, large indoor gatherings, and the slow vaccination rollout for teenagers have been cited as the causes for the virus spreading at alarming rates. 

Recent studies also show that a descendent of the delta covid variant is responsible for a large portion of the UK covid cases, with some voicing their concerns that this new variant may be the cause of the rapid transmissions. 

Despite a much lower number of cases, Scotland is not entirely safe either, as infection rates here are no longer declining, but rather on the uphill slope.

Amid tension between the National Health Service (NHS) chiefs who have urged ministers to bring back restrictions and a backup strategy, or a Plan B, Sturgeon announced on Tuesday, 26 October that no new restrictions were going to be put in place for now. 

She added: “I want to assure Parliament and the public that the Scottish Government has been working closely with the United Nations and the UK Government to mitigate these risks [of increased infections following COP26] as far as possible.” 

She also pledged an additional £482 million dedicated to health boards and other medical bodies, who are suffering from the pandemic. £136 million more has been set aside for covid vaccines, and £121 million will be dedicated to the Test and Protect contract tracing system. 

The student body is also divided about COP26. 

“Obviously, it’s not fair that 25,000 people are allowed to fly in when half of my tutorials are still online and I’ve still never been to a university lecture,” says one University of Edinburgh student. 

“But climate change is something that’s critical to be discussing right now.” 

Another student added: 

“I’d be so angry if cases rose again after COP26, and we have to go back to completely online lessons next semester.” 

Image: A crowd of people. Rob Curran via Unsplash