COVID-19 and what to expect from the Scottish Government today

The Scottish Government will today (February 22nd, 2022) announce its response to the scrapping of (almost) all restrictions in England about which we heard last night. So here are some thoughts @mark_mclaughlin @HMcArdleHT @HelenPuttick @NicolaSturgeon

I expect that as in the past, the Scottish Government will follow a more cautious approach to the one in London and be more “socially oriented”. This is in line with other initiatives, for example, providing free feminine care products in education settings.

  • Continuing to provide free tests, at least to some extend;
  • Self-isolation requirement, perhaps scaled down;
  • Scrapping vaccine passport schemes;
  • Continuing a requirement to wear masks, although possibly not in pubs.

For this limited removal of the restrictions, the SG and @NicolaSturgeon personally will be thrashed in the news and possibly by other, local, politicians and members of the public.

I think this is unfair. There are many things on which I disagree with Ms Sturgeon, but I am supportive of most recent public health measures.

There is a lot to improve, such as the clarity and consistency of the measures, but overall they seem to be more science-guided and safer as opposed to Westminster’s politics.

The number of cases in age groups

A context: The pandemic is not over.

Comparison of the number of reported cases at wave peaks. Note log scale.

Even with significantly reduced testing, the number of reported cases in both Scotland and in England is still very high, much higher than during the previous waves! Yes, it is true – there are more reported cases now than at the peaks of previous waves!

Comparison of the number of reported deaths at wave peaks. Note log scale

There are fewer COVID-19 related deaths now than during winter 2020-21 when we did not have vaccines, but we are still at similar levels than at the peak in autumn 2021.

So, declaring the end of the pandemic now is premature – to put it mildly.

Free tests: I know they cost money, but they are also necessary, both from a societal and from an individual point of view. Public health managers need to know how many people are infected because this is how they can estimate the pressure on the NHS.

Individuals need to know when they should refrain from going to work or school, or visiting their vulnerable Granma.

Telling people they need to pay for the test puts a barrier on their availability – even those who can afford to pay Β£20 per pack of 7 tests are unlikely to spend it.

And, it creates another inequality, as those most vulnerable are less likely to afford the testing.

Self-isolation: Support for self-isolation is necessary for testing to work properly. Remember that the UK has significantly lower sick pay than many countries, like Germany. And, again, it will disproportionally affect those who are already disadvantaged.

Passports: They do not seem to make much difference, so I support these. The vaccination levels are stalling anyway, Omicron is spreading anyway so protecting against superspreaders is less important.

Masks: We all probably hate masks, but they work! The public should be encouraged to wear them and they should be made available cheaper. I will definitely continue wearing a mask, to protect others – and to protect myself. Removing mask requirements in hospitals is crazy.

Should masks be worn in churches, pubs, and in concert halls/events? From an epidemiological point of view, no – but there is a strong social pressure and so I can understand why they need to go.