HUMZA Yousaf has said that “of course” there will be a increase in coronavirus as a result of the COP26 climate change summit descending on Glasgow next month.
The Health Secretary said there was “absolutely a risk of Covid cases rising thereafter”, but said the Scottish Government would do all it could to keep them to a minimum.
Labour said Mr Yousaf had “no answers” about the potential health impact of the event.
Last week, the Government’s public health adviser, Professor Devi Sridhar of Edinburgh University, warned COP26 was likely to trigger a spike in infections.
She said the arrival of around 25,000 people from around the world would “make Covid worse for Scotland” and “increase the risk of further restrictions”.
On BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show, Mr Yousaf was asked about COP26’s effect on Covid.
He said: “Of course we’d expect there to be positive cases that are linked to COP, but we are also very, very assured by the protocols we’ve got in place to isolate those cases as best we possibly can.”
Asked if he expected a COP26-related Covid spike to lead to a reintroduction of restrictions, Mr Yousaf said: “We’ll do everything we can to make sure we keep [cases] to a minimum.
“But there’s no public health expert in the world who would say there’s no risk, in the midst of a global pandemic, to have tens of thousands of people descending onto largely one city.
“So there is absolutely a risk of Covid cases rising thereafter, but we’ll do everything we can to mitigate that.”
Covid cases rose in the summer as restrictions relaxed, but began to fall in September as the vaccination programme reached its end with young people being included.
However the drop has levelled off, with cases this month rarely below 2,000 per day.
Despite the stubborn statistics, Mr Yousaf said there are no immediate plans for a return to tough restrictions.
He said: “We’re not actively considering restrictions.
“We know the harm restrictions have had in the past and therefore doing things like ensuring as many people get vaccinated as possible, continuing to make face coverings mandatory in certain settings, ensuring we have that universal testing offer, as well as other mitigations… all of these things hopefully continue to help us avoid restrictions.”
But he added it would be “foolish” to speculate on possible restrictions at Christmas.
“I’m not going to tell you what’s happening in a couple of months time,” he said.
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “The Health Secretary simply had no answers to the potential impact of COP26 on our NHS.
“We need to see action to speed up the booster programme, ramp up testing and to secure surge capacity for our NHS.
“We are looking down the barrel at a winter of extreme pressure on our NHS and potentially surging levels of Covid.
“We need action from the Health Secretary to avoid this, not warm words.”
Tory Health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP said: “Humza Yousaf was unable to provide any confidence that our NHS is prepared as delegates start to arrive for the COP26 Conference.
“This event is unlike anything that Scotland has previously hosted, and under the backdrop of Covid there needs to be reassurance that every mitigation is being taken, so health services are not overwhelmed by a surge in cases.
“The minster needs to focus on stepping up testing and the booster programme to protect capacity within our NHS and those most vulnerable.
“Humza Yousaf needs to take action if the SNP are serious about managing the potential impact COP26 could have on our NHS.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Glasgow is about to host one of the biggest post-lockdown event and it is, sadly, spectacularly unprepared.
“The NHS is already overwhelmed, it will struggle to cope with the extra added pressure an event like COP26 will bring.
“The Health Secretary was only able to offer smoke and mirrors.
“The health boards had to ask for help from the army to carry out the booster program, a hospital in Lanarkshire triggered code black due to staff shortages, we are clearly still in a crisis with no concrete solutions in sight.
“Covid is still a threat and NHS Scotland is about to face its winter worst yet. I urge the SNP government to deliver a real, revised and improved Winter package to protect and support our NHS.”