This was the week that Nicola Sturgeon appeared to accept that there was more than one way to stop a pandemic surging out of control and that a programme of heavier restrictions simply wasn’t among them.
However, if we’re to believe that this was a genuine Damascene conversion to something much more in tune with Boris Johnson’s approach in England, then the First Minister must surely abandon her insistence that she plans to keep her controls in place for another 10 days. And it is now up to what opposition there is at Holyrood to force the end of what others have called a “lockdown by stealth”.
Her terminology this week suggested a change of emphasis with my colleague, Simon Johnson, reporting that she told the Scottish Parliament that she was now planning a blueprint to live with the virus in the long term that would be “more proportionate and sustainable and less restrictive”.
It was essentially an admission – not that she would say so, publicly – that hardline restrictions weren’t effective anymore.
Possible change of heart?
Sadly, however, none of the above meant that the restrictions she had imposed to take effect from Boxing Day, with nightclubs closed, table service only in pubs and severe limits on all gatherings, whether inside or out, would be scrapped. They are still supposed to last until January 17. Unless, of course, she has another change of heart and I can see no reason why that should not be the case.
After all, she initially said that she would not change the Covid self-isolation rule from 10 days to seven, which the Prime Minister did for England on December 22 when everyone in Scotland – from the hospitality industry to public services, all stretched by staff shortages – were pleading with her to follow suit.
In an incredible explanation, she insisted that she had to adhere to advice from her government’s advisers, while the Prime Minister listened to his experts, plainly ignoring the fact that many in both groups were the same people.
Then, and for no other reason than fear of being seen to be “copying Boris”, she refused to budge even to the extent of telling Holyrood on December 29 that she’d think about it “in a few days”. And so, this week, she did what she should have done two weeks ago and reduced the quarantine period to seven days.
Also in the past week, but a day after it had been announced in London, her government abandoned the requirement for airport passenger checks, with Humza Yosaf, her hapless health minister, complaining about England’s “unilateral” behaviour on the issue.
One big push
Ms Sturgeon has her first opportunity to revisit things in four days’ time when she delivers her normal Covid update to Holyrood. The huge increase in cases caused by the omicron variant is still causing major problems in Scotland.
Army personnel have been called in to assist medical teams in Grampian and 500 extra special police officers and trainees are being drafted in to fill vacancies in forces all over the country.
However, there are clear signs that while it is more transmissible, omicron is causing much less serious illness and leads to fewer hospital admissions.
Figures released on Friday revealed that only one in a hundred people who catch Covid require hospital care following the UK’s vaccination programme, with Public Health Scotland reporting that the proportion of people who need hospital care after getting the virus dropped from 12 per cent in January last year to one per cent in December.
The study also found that four in 10 people in hospital with Covid were being treated for other conditions, rather than requiring medical care for the virus.
An urgent rethink of Scotland’s remaining Covid restrictions is necessary and it is up to opposition politicians to force a change in the coming days.