Covid: Nicola Sturgeon's closure of pubs is a draconian step that shows it's vital to obey rules – Scotsman comment

Any government decision that could result in the loss of hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs can only ever be justified if there is little to no alternative.

Thursday, 8th October 2020, 12:30 pm
Nicola Sturgeon is urging people to stick to the rules as Covid cases continue to rise (Picture: Scottish Government/Flickr)
Nicola Sturgeon is urging people to stick to the rules as Covid cases continue to rise (Picture: Scottish Government/Flickr)

So the Scottish Government’s announcement that pubs and restaurants in the Central Belt will be forced to close for 16 days from this Friday – a move which the Scottish Licensed Trade Association warned would have a “cataclysmic” effect on the industry – has to be based on firm evidence that the rise in Covid-19 cases is so serious that such a draconian measure is warranted but also that it will have the desired effect.

With this in mind, Scotland’s chief medical officer, chief nursing officer and national clinical director published a paper spelling out that evidence. They warned the number of cases was now increasing by seven per cent every day, putting Scotland on track to reach a level similar to the disease’s peak in March by the end of this month.

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Pubs and restaurants in Central Belt forced to shut from Friday

They pointed out that Scotland’s situation was tracking events in France about four weeks ago. France, like Spain, responded by introducing “strict new measures to reduce their rising numbers of infections and deaths”, including the closure of all bars in Paris for two weeks and bars and restaurants in Marseille for 15 days.

So it is clear the Scottish Government had to act when confronted by the cold, hard reality of the outbreak. And the action they have taken is based on the response by other countries in a similar situation, which seems sensible. The evidence paper stressed the importance of two-metre social distancing and the problems caused by “pinch points where people might gather”, poor ventilation, the likelihood of people touching surfaces, and the potential for noise. “Looking at these factors, any indoor setting where the public mixes freely with members of different households and people of different age groups carries a number of risks. Hospitality therefore presents one of the highest risks.”

However, it is also clear that the strategy chosen will cause serious and potentially lasting damage to an important part of the Scottish economy. The Scotsman has argued that the hospitality sector – of which pubs and restaurants are an important part – should be a special case for economic support from government. Our economy needs them to survive for the sake of its long-term health as once a business is gone, it can be hard to recreate or replace.

What all this means for the public is that we have a duty to do our utmost to maintain social distancing, to wear masks, wash our hands, and, basically, to stick to the rules. Rather than trying to find ways around them, we should be working to ensure we abide by them in spirit as well as in detail.

If we do this we will not only reduce the spread of the disease, but we will help make the imposition of restrictions like this less likely and help businesses stay afloat.

And for those who have got the impression that the public at large is now in a state of rebellion against the rules, the evidence paper cites a poll saying that 79 per cent of people report “either complete or almost complete compliance”. So if you are breaking the rules, it appears you are in a minority.

All of us are human, we can all make mistakes or cut a corner or two, but we should not let occasional lapses that we or others make weaken our overall resolve. We may not have to suffer this for all that much longer. According to WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “there is hope that by the end of this year we may have a vaccine. There is hope”.

While it may take some time for everyone to be given the vaccine once one is developed, that is a message worth repeating. “There is hope.”

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