Politics

Donald MacLeod: One virus, four very different and confusing roadmaps!

Happy New Year everyone? And dare I say it, but it looks like 2022 may be a lot happier, healthier, and more stable than the previous two Covid-blighted years.

On Wednesday our normally overcautious First Minister Nicola Sturgeon surprisingly took Scotland’s first tentative foot back to normality by announcing that she was finally scrapping the strict 10-day self-isolation period and reducing it to seven days for the fully vaccinated. It is an overdue but welcome step, which finally brings the country back into line with the rest of the UK and one which will undoubtedly bring some much-needed relief to our exhausted NHS, public services and businesses who have been crippled by Scotland’s stringent quarantine rules and resultant staff absences.

The fact that the First Minister relaxed those rules against a worrying Omicron backdrop of a million cases being recorded, spoke volumes, as did her nod that in step with the rest of the UK, pre-departure travel rules may also be scrapped, both of which gave rise to the hope that her government may be about to throw out their old, rigid and economically damaging Covid measures and bring in new, less bruising and more flexible policies to deal with Omicron and any future Covid variants.

They might now be looking at all the data, not just the parts that suit their usual in-thrall-of-Covid narrative and perhaps they are now actually listening to and acting on advice from a wider range of public health experts, not just their chosen few.

Respected academics, like professor of medical informatics and epidemiology Helen Colhoun who featured in my column in December, said then that she “believes the blunt instrument of lockdown and all its attendant harms, is no longer the only route and that another course might be charted”. She also argued for a government shift in emphasis which, with rapid provisioning of new antiviral medicines that are now available, should be strongly focused on protecting the vulnerable.

There’s also Professor Mark Woolhouse who prefers Sweden’s light-touch approach to restrictions which would have been a better choice than “lazy “lockdowns which he believes “signify a failure of public health policy.”

So, it was pleasing to hear the First Minister state that her government wanted to adjust their thinking and “become more resilient in future, more proportionate, sustainable and less restrictive” and that they had confidence in the new anti-viral treatments available.

I hope so, because all our main business sectors have suffered greatly over the course of the pandemic, particularly our hospitality, tourism, events and leisure sectors, all of whom were almost wiped out during this year’s festive period. It was a crucial time when those businesses looked forward to a huge influx of merry customers and the soothing sounds of their tills jingling away, which would set them up until springtime.

Sadly, as we all know, that didn’t happen and the Scottish Government panicked, rushing in a whole raft of disproportionate restrictions, which triggered a tsunami of cancellations, and pushed a great many of those businesses perilously close to the edge of the abyss.

And no more so than at Hogmanay, or should I say Hogman-nae!

Because there were nae punters, and nae business.

And if all that wasn’t a bitter enough pill for those despairing businesses to swallow, thousands of fed-up Scots, of all ages, fled across the border tae drink again and bring in the bells.

Over in Glasgow, “out with the old” seemed to mean just that, when in what could have been a comedy episode of Scot Squad, six police wagons arrived at the Avant Garde to break up a pensioners’ pre-bells ceilidh. “Ur ye dancin’?” “You askin’?” “Aye, am askin? ” “Am dancin'” …”you’re nicked then”

Joking asides, is it really too much to ask that that in the coming weeks and months our devolved governments and Westminster put their politics aside and take a four-nation approach to dealing with this crisis and that they deliver one clear, concise, and effective roadmap to recovery? Not four very different, confusing routes that all eventually end up at the same destination. That for me would make it a very Happy New Year!

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

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