Margaret Ferrier or 'Margaret Covid' may become as infamous as Typhoid Mary – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

In the early 20th century, an Irish immigrant to America, Mary Mallon, infected 53 people with typhoid while working as a domestic cook. ‘Typhoid Mary’, as she became known, infected family after family before she was identified as the first recorded asymptomatic carrier of the disease in the United States.

Tuesday, 6th October 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th October 2020, 1:10 pm
Nicola Sturgeon with Margaret Ferrier, or 'Margaret Covid' as the First Minister has mistakenly called her, during the 2019 general election campaign (Picture: John Devlin)
Nicola Sturgeon with Margaret Ferrier, or 'Margaret Covid' as the First Minister has mistakenly called her, during the 2019 general election campaign (Picture: John Devlin)

She lived in infamy (and quarantine) for much of the rest of her life. There are strong similarities to her story and that of disgraced nationalist MP, Margaret Ferrier, even if we don’t know for sure she has infected anyone.

Revelations of Ferrier’s journey to and from London, her trip to a gym, a gift shop and a beauty salon whilst being knowingly sick with Covid-19 have ignited a rare and unified anger in the UK public. Her case eclipses that of Dominic Cummings and has laid bare the reality that the patience of the public for the lockdown’s strictures is wearing desperately thin.

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I’ve seen several posts on social media saying things like, “If she doesn’t resign from Parliament by the end of the day, I’m off to hug my gran who I haven’t seen since March”. The idea that she can cling on to her job, salary and London life after such a reckless act of public endangerment, makes a mockery of the sacrifices that everyone has made since the start of the emergency.

Public tolerance for further restrictions was already at breaking point and that, in part, is down to the mismanagement of expectations. The Scottish Government told us in the summer that they were working towards a Covid-eradication strategy, whereby we would rid the country of the illness before winter and the second wave. It didn’t work.

We are now staring down the barrel of a circuit-breaker lockdown, and all talk of a quarantine order on English travellers coming north has stopped (our R number is much higher than theirs in some areas) and Edinburgh Council has cancelled Christmas.

Public unrest is further compounded by the seeming inconsistencies in the restrictions. You can have 50 people at Sunday worship, but only 20 at a funeral in the same church the following day. Five was the maximum number of adults you were allowed in parent-and-baby class, but now it’s 10 (but only if your child is under 12 months); you can still get an eyebrow wax, but you can’t visit your gran in her care home, the list (and the confusion) goes on and on.

People have worked really hard to understand and apply the rules. They have missed funerals and weddings, they have gone without comfort and companionship and there are many more months of this to come. To see any public figure, be it Dominic Cummings or Margaret Ferrier flaunt those rules with such abandon undermines everything.

Nicola Sturgeon has twice now accidentally referred to Margaret Ferrier as “Margaret Covid” since news of her actions came to light. I have no personal animosity to Ms Ferrier and I hope that she recovers well from her infection, but I rather think that name is going to stick.

Typhoid Mary’s name lives in infamy in the annals of American history – for every day that she clings on to her job at Westminster, Margaret Ferrier’s place in our history as a figure of notoriety becomes more assured.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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