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Boris Johnson defends trip to Scotland amid coronavirus lockdown

Boris Johnson defends trip to Scotland amid coronavirus lockdown
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United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday visited Scotland to promote the rollout of coronavirus vaccines across the U.K., sparking criticism that he was not adhering to his own government's lockdown orders. 

The Associated Press reported that Johnson on the first day of his trip visited a laboratory at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, where COVID-19 tests are processed, and met British army troops who were setting up a vaccination center in the city. 

While Scotland has its own government in Edinburgh and several recent polls show support for Scottish independence from the U.K., Johnson’s trip is part of a larger effort to show that Scotland directly benefits from the U.K.’s rapid vaccine distribution, the AP notes. 

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“I’m here in my capacity as prime minister of the whole country to thank hard-working officials and public servants across the whole of Britain who are doing fantastic work,” Johnson said. 

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has described Johnson’s visit as “not essential” given the ongoing pandemic, with the U.K. enduring Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak. 

As of Thursday, Great Britain has had more than 3.7 million COVID-19 cases, with more than 103,000 dead as a result of the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University

Despite the high coronavirus infection rates and fatalities, the U.K. has also been one of the leaders in coronavirus vaccine distribution even as it battles a new strain of the virus that experts say could be more transmissible than the original. 

Johnson on Wednesday announced that the government was hopeful that it would be able to reopen schools in March, though he told the House of Commons there will likely not be enough data on the vaccine’s effect on transmission until late February, at which point the government will be able to plan a “gradual and phased” reopening.

Sturgeon, whose Scottish National Party wants to hold another referendum on Scotland’s independence, is currently leading in polls ahead of May’s general election. 

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However, Johnson on Thursday said talks about another referendum are “completely irrelevant.” 

“I have to say I think endless talk about a referendum, without any clear description of what the constitutional situation would be after that referendum, is completely irrelevant now to the concerns of most people who, I think, want us to beat this pandemic and come through it strongly together,” he said, according to the AP. 

Scotland previously voted by a clear majority in a 2014 referendum to stay within the U.K.