AS I SEE IT
A new framework to tackle the pandemic is creating confusion and frustration, writes TERRY MURDEN
The rules on where we can eat, drink and who we can meet and should avoid will change again next week. Except they’re not strictly rules, more guidance, unless they’re regulations. What is clear is that the growing mish-mash of do’s and don’ts is steadily conspiring to confuse us all.
No wonder there’s a growing frustration and cynicism, as well as threats of legal action, among those who wonder if the ‘medical evidence’ behind the latest orders is being dreamed up by the producers of a Japanese game show.
A 69-page document gives details of five tiers of prohibition in Scotland, although they are not tiers, they are levels, a differentiation that has been largely ignored by the media and the public alike. Top of these five levels is level four (just to add a bit more muddle) and they will apply at different times depending on where you live, work or play.
It’s all as clear as a Boris Johnson statement on whether or not you should work at home. Level zero is described as being “near normal” and means you can invite 14 friends or relatives around to your house except you can’t let them in and they will have to make do with sitting in the back garden, that’s if it’s not raining and freezing cold at this time of year. Yeah, that’s near normal.
That’s before you consider whether it’s worth venturing out for something to eat and drink and which of your friends and relatives you can take with you, and who should be left behind in the garden shed with a bucket. Understanding if your regular pub can serve a pint of best before or after you’ve had your tea will require consultation with the local commanders (the council).
Everyone accepts that the coronavirus has created the mother of all dilemmas for those seeking to simultaneously protect the nation’s health and the economy. But the constantly shifting instructions are not only a cause of growing frustration, they are adding significantly to the risks being shouldered by businesses, some of which are dangerously close to closing for good.
I get a regular flow of information and data pointing out what might be termed the alternative scenario. Covid is a nasty illness and we all have to be cautious and sensitive towards anyone who suffers from it. But the data, and the response by governments, is being questioned even by scientists.
The Scottish Hospitality Group last month said that it was aware of only 17 confirmed cases of Covid from 1.8 million customers its member had served. According to one source fewer than 75 individuals under 65 in Scotland have died from coronavirus. Not sure if that’s correct, or if they had underlying illnesses, but in the absence of an official statistical break down it’s no surprise that many people argue that the measures should be targeted on the most vulnerable rather than the current blanket bans which are in danger of decimating the economy.
Why has Nicola Sturgeon introduced a “levels” system rather than simply adopt the UK government’s three tiers? The First Minister’s argument is that it is tailored to better meet circumstances in Scotland. Balderdash. The reason for having a uniquely Scottish framework is the same as the reason we have Test and Protect rather than Westminster’s Test and Trace. It’s because Ms Sturgeon wants to be different to anything England produces.
This ‘mine’s better than yours’ game of playground politics is not just adding confusion, it also adds administrative cost and delay. It’s why many of the business grants and loans were delivered later in Scotland and why some understandably see Ms Sturgeon’s tactics being laced with a dose of independence campaigning in the run up to next year’s election.
The new framework will come into effect next week, and includes some changes that should have been introduced in the first place – like allowing some pubs to open if they don’t serve alcohol. At least give them some means of earning a living.
There is no time limit on any of the new tiers, but national clinical director Jason Leitch’s comment about preparing for a ‘digital Christmas’ let the cat out of the bag. We’re in this for the long run, although no one seriously expected the bug to disappear before the end of the year. Like thousands of turkeys our chance of enjoying any family merriment is well and truly stuffed, just like many businesses that will not be expecting a happy new year.