Covid: Nicola Sturgeon should not turn into a chest-beating parody of Boris Johnson, but she needs to give Scotland more hope – Kirsty Strickland

The mood of the nation was captured during this week’s inane debate over the merits of a 24-hour Covid-19 vaccination effort.

Nicola Sturgeon is naturally cautious but she should take the opportunity afforded by the start of the Scottish Government’s Covid vaccine marketing campaign to help lift the nation’s spirits (Picture: Andy Buchanan/PA)
Nicola Sturgeon is naturally cautious but she should take the opportunity afforded by the start of the Scottish Government’s Covid vaccine marketing campaign to help lift the nation’s spirits (Picture: Andy Buchanan/PA)

A happy country would not have dedicated so much time to such a futile argument. Content people, feeling optimistic about their immediate future, would not have carried on with the discussion beyond the point where politicians pretended they didn’t understand the difference between being willing to do something and it being top of your bucket list.

Our social calendars might be bare, but Allegra Stratton, Boris Johnson’s new Downing Street spokeswoman, was correct when she asserted “there’s not a clamour for appointments late into the night or early in the morning. If that was the case then it would be something the NHS would consider”.

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She also missed the point entirely. Nobody wants a 4am appointment. Not in the way that we might want to win the lottery, or want to lock eyes with a newly single Jon Hamm across a crowded bar.

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But many, if not most, of us are willing to be vaccinated at any hour, if doing so would help speed-up the rollout of the vaccine. The Proclaimers didn’t want to walk 500 miles but in certain circumstances they knew it was worth the effort.

Asked about the prospect of round-the-clock vaccinations, Nicola Sturgeon said that because her government’s priority is to vaccinate the elderly and most vulnerable, out-of-hours appointments aren’t necessarily practical.

“But once we get into the younger age groups, I think the ways in which, the times at which, the settings in which we vaccinate people will become potentially much more flexible,” she said. “I don’t rule anything out. We want to get through this programme as quickly as possible, we want everybody in the adult population to have this vaccine as quickly as possible.”

According to the Scottish government’s Covid-19 vaccine deployment plan, the national programme will have the workforce and the infrastructure to vaccinate 400,000 people each week by the end of February. So far, more than 190,000 people have received the first dose of the vaccine, including over 80 per cent of residents and over half of staff in ‘older adult’ care homes.

This is cheering news. So why has it not translated into cautious optimism about what this year might bring?

Many people say that they have found these first few weeks of 2021 the most challenging of the pandemic so far. With good reason.

The country is struggling with fatigue as we approach the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown. Winter is also contributing to the feeling of gloom. Icy conditions and a clampdown on outdoor exercise that is deemed "too sociable” has meant that people are feeling more cut-off from human contact than ever before.

Case numbers continue to rise, hospitalisations are at a record high and deaths of people with confirmed or suspected coronavirus have topped 7,000, according to figures published by the National Records of Scotland.

Added to all this is a real sense of hopelessness around this latest lockdown and our chances of exiting it any time soon.

Before the first vaccine was approved for use, the mere prospect of it was described as the “light at the end of the tunnel”.

Now we have three approved vaccines to choose from and the programme looks to be off to a strong start. Amidst the necessary caution and caveats and expectation management – that this is unequivocally good news bears repeating from the podium more often than it has been.

Nicola Sturgeon says she expects that by May, more than 2.5 million people will have received at least their first dose of the vaccine. That includes everyone over the age of 50 and people under 50 who have specific underlying health conditions.

Mass vaccination is surely – at the very least – the beginning of the end. When we talk about “getting back to normal”, I think most understand that Covid-19 will be with us for a long time to come.

In seeking reassurance that it’s okay to feel hopeful, nobody is looking for a detailed analysis of how and when Covid-19 can be eliminated from Scotland. They want to know when they might be able to spend meaningful time with their loved ones again and what part vaccines play in making that happen.

The current uncertainty is prime hunting season for performatively cynical bores on social media, who spend their days reprimanding anybody who is still clinging to the hope of normal life resuming – in some form – this year. The guy who takes a long drag from a mock-vintage pipe he bought from Amazon as he tells a young woman that she is an idiot for thinking that she’ll be able to see her mum for her birthday in August.

Nicola Sturgeon has been praised for her clear and candid communication throughout the pandemic. But if you ask ten of your friends how they think the vaccine rollout will impact the re-opening of the country, they’ll each give you a different timeline for when they expect to see an improvement.

Nobody wants to see the naturally cautious Sturgeon morph into a chest-beating, bearer-of-false-promise parody of Boris Johnson. But it would be helpful to be told how far through the fabled tunnel she thinks we are. Is the light at the end of it nothing more than a pinprick in the distance or are we approaching living-room Big Light territory?

The Scottish government’s vaccine marketing campaign begins on January 21 and with it comes an opportunity to help lift the nation’s spirits. “Stay at home – the vaccine is coming” has a nice ring to it.

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