The new need-to-know term of the Coronavirus era is: “circuit-breaker”. Scottish and UK Government ministers are openly talking about the possibility of a circuit-breaker lockdown to stem the spread of covid-19. The October holidays is rumoured to be the week when the Scottish Government will introduce the measure, though it would probably extend to the week after as well.
Jason Leitch, the national clinical director, said the idea has “come out of Sage”, but gave a very confused picture to Holyrood’s covid-19 committee of whether he thought it was valuable or not. On the one hand he said it was “not the answer” but could “be a help on the way potentially”, because it would “buy time” to allow the government to be prepared for winter, though he also raised the possibility that it could become a periodic occurrence.
“Some modellers suggest you should do it repeatedly, so you would do two weeks, open for a period, then two weeks again,” he said, but warned this would have severe economic, health and education implications.
He concluded: “So it is a very difficult balance about whether we think this new iconic measure would be something we would recommend for Scotland.”
So that’s clear as mud. We seem to be moving from one fire-fighting measure to the next, with little evaluation in-between about why the last one didn’t put out the fire. The household visitor ban was at first only necessary in the west coast of Scotland, we were told, because the virus was primarily spreading in homes there and not in hospitality, whereas the picture was different in other parts of the country, like Aberdeen where there had been a lockdown on hospitality after a pub outbreak. Horses for courses. Then the household visitor ban was suddenly necessary across the country, as was a 10pm pub curfew. That was announced just over a week ago in a national address as a major intervention to stem the virus, and after a week of off-the-cuff measures to rein in a predictable and avoidable student outbreak, we are rapidly moving onto the Next Big Thing.
Each time there is confusion about whether the Scottish Government is introducing measures because they honestly believe they are the most effective measure, or because they are working within UK Government imposed restrictions, financial or otherwise. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon implied in a letter to Boris Johnson last week that she would have went further on restrictions to hospitality if more Treasury funding was available for financial protection of the industry, so are we to take from that the Scottish Government believes its hands are tied? Or that on the balance of risks to the Scottish population, the First Minister thinks financial damage to the hospitality industry ranks higher than the risk of covid-19 spreading in hospitality settings? Sturgeon has now said that “in hindsight” she wishes the UK Government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme in August “hadn’t happened”, but the Scottish Government re-opened hospitality in mid-July – was that a mistake too? It would be helpful for all of us – regardless of our views on what restrictions should or shouldn’t be imposed – if there was more clarity about why decisions are being made and more open evaluation of those decisions in the aftermath.
If we don’t identify where the faults are, we are just going to be caught in a cycle of circuit-breaks and faulty currents.
Source Direct is a free morning newsletter providing you with all the latest Scottish news in your inbox each morning, including:
- Analysis of the key stories
- A summary of what’s in the Scottish papers
- The latest on Source
- Interesting opinion pieces from around Scottish media
To sign-up for Source Direct, click here.