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Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon and Manchester mayor Andy Burnham in spat over COVID-19 travel ban

A row has broken out between the Mayor of Manchester and top politicians in Scotland over an abrupt travel ban imposed over COVID-19.

Last Friday Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that a ban on non-essential journeys between Scotland and the English city would come into effect on Monday.

The move came as a shock amid a gradual easing of restrictions in both countries. Although Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, its parliament can rule on matters related to public health.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said the ban was “insulting” and had “come out of the blue”. He called on the Scottish government to compensate local people who had planned trips to Scotland in the coming weeks.

“It’s not just the direct impact on Greater Manchester, it’s on our reputation as a city,” he said. “It’s had an impact on people with holiday cottages booked [and] people having to go for work reasons.”

Scottish leader points to local COVID-19 figures, accuses Mayor of ‘generating a spat’

Sturgeon defended the ban on Monday on public health grounds, saying the decision had been taken based on COVID-19 levels in the area.

Another 10,633 new cases were recorded in the Greater Manchester area on Monday: one of the highest levels since the February peak.

New infections have been on the rise across the UK in recent weeks due to the spread of the Delta variant first identified in India, while the nationwide vaccination drive is not yet complete.

Recent surveys suggest about 1 in 200 people in the Greater Manchester area have had the virus, three times higher than the rates of infection in Scotland.

“These are public health measures,” Sturgeon said on Monday. “I have a duty, and it’s one I take very seriously, to keep Scotland as safe as possible.”

The leading Scottish National Party has long pushed for Scottish independence from the UK. Sturgeon suggested that Burnham was playing politics by pushing back against the travel ban.

“I’ve always got on well with Andy Burnham and if he wants to have a grown-up conversation, he only has to pick up the phone,” she said.

“But if, as I suspect might be the case, this is more about generating a spat with me as part of some positioning in a Labour leadership contest in future, then I’m not interested. I’m serious about doing that job in a way that keeps Scotland as safe as I possibly can.”


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