Saturday, April 18, 2020

The biggest test of Nicola Sturgeon's career: she must insist that Scotland's lockdown remains in force until it can be safely replaced with a credible 'test, trace, isolate' plan to suppress the epidemic - and if that means facing down the right-wing London media and the Tory 'hawks', so be it.


  1. We always come back to the decision from the early March when we abandoned test/trace/isolate strategy. it was a political decision based on some wacky science. Who exactly in London made it? Why did SG go along with it?
    Tabloids are now all in favour of lifting the lockdown because their sales have plummeted. Those with very weak on-line presence (like The Sun) are in serious problems. But - there will be no lifting of the lockdown as they imagine it, it will just be gradually loosened till the vaccine's found. And we won't be able to even think about loosening it before the whole test/trace/isolate strategy's back in place. We'll need to test tens of thousands of people in Scotland (hundreds of thousands in UK) every day. So - if anyone's looking for a culprit why GB will be the last one coming from the lockdown in Europe (with probably the highest death toll), look at No10 (Chequers at the moment).

    1. People need to stop wishing the Scottish government do things it can't do while we are in the UK.

      Testing and tracing is only effective within a controlled border geographical area; if you have lots of infected arrivals coming in 'under the radar', it will break down quickly as you will have loads of unexplained cases appearing all over the place. Everywhere with low death rates has tough border controls right now, from S. Korea to Norway.

      Scotland's first 'community transmission' was in all probability not 'Scottish' community, but 'UK' community. If you'd asked about trips to England rather than just Italy and China, you'd have got your source. They brought it from Lambeth, not Lombardy.

      In the days before lockdown, Scotland got a wave of people fleeing infected areas. It became like rural southern Italy, with London/the SE being the UKs Milan/Lombardy. The difference was that Italians stayed in their own country. People from England crossed international borders, so while italian infections are largely Italy only, Scottish numbers are affected by an unusual level of infections from another country; something it was unable to stop as part of the UK. If it had been able to and done so, we'd be more like Norway.

      Once England dumped test and trace, it would have immediately become ineffective in Scotland unless all international arrivals, including from the rUK, could be monitored and quarantined if needed. With Scotland not an independent country, this was impossible, and so in flooded the campervans, holiday castle owners, those coming to stay with family in 'secluded Scotland' etc, as per the news. Scotland was rural southern italy as noted; a bolt hole for many from hotspot England.

      Contact tracing in the face of that would have been a joke.

      If Scotland is to contact trace, it needs control of its borders. We need only residents and critical business travel in and out.

      That, or it is part of a UK trace area like before and we take more infections from hotspot England 'on the chin'.

    2. Scottish Skier: it's wrong and dangerous to suggest that the Scottish Government can't do these things. The UK was contact tracing until mid-March even with totally open borders. Of course it would be better if Scotland could control its borders, but we live in an imperfect world and that's no excuse for not doing the best we can. This is an emergency situation, and as Dr Mike Ryan of the WHO famously said, the most important thing is to act quickly, not to come up with a million reasons for not acting at all. "Speed trumps perfection."

    3. I don't always agree with James, but I do on this. Scotland needs to do what it CAN right now and not wring its hands because it has no border control. Given that non-essential travel is forbidden, the border is effectively closed. Time for Sturgeon to pull her finger out and look like she runs the sort of government that she claims she wants. She is responsible for Scotland. She isn't responsible for whatever frothing faux outrage is directed at her in the press which results from her doing her job (i.e. to make decisions for Scotland). If she is too afraid to be seen to be doing things differently from England (and our NHS is doing things differently, and the figures reflect a slighty different experience here compared with England - so this has to be happening for a reason) then she is in the wrong job. Being in apparent lockstep with a clearly misguided UK government and its policy, is a grave error.

    4. Personally, I'd say 7560 less deaths (day 28 since first 10) is a bit more than 'slightly'. Scotland locking down at ~10 dead (= e.g. 1000 infections 3 weeks before) compared to over 300 for the rUK has saved thousands of lives. If we'd also waited until 300+ dead (=30k infected 3 weeks before), we'd have 16k bodies here too.

      Scotland can and is doing some things differently. It can't do effective test and trace though without border controls.

      The idea of test and trace is to allow us to ease lockdown a bit and keep a lid on things. As it stands, the border is fully open, but with a bit less traffic. Go and try it. You can drive across and won't be stopped. If we unlock ahead of England, it will cause a massive wave of new campervans, holiday home owners and family visits to here as English folk seek to escape the lockdown / virus here. England sees Scotland as part of it, so it's fine to do this. Scotland doesn't have the respect other countries get. These arrivals will again be 'untraceable', creating new 'community' cases all over, notably in rural areas, and they will put huge weight on our health service.

      This is exactly what happened here prior to lookdown and a decent proportion of our 800 dead can be attributed to it, if not most.

      New cases per day were running at around 10/day consistently in our test and trace phase, then 5-7 days after the flood of people heading to Scotland as a bold hole, the infection rate took off wildly in response. This was Charles from Windsor in his campervan going to the supermarket near nevis Range car park. Southern italy all over again. The rumors of London being locked had them running for the Scottish heather hills.

      If we'd shut to non-residents on e.g. the 16th March like Norway, we'd have similar levels of dead to there. It's really that simple.

      I say this as a huge believer in free movement. Except during epidemics.

      If we'd locked down London like Wuhan, we could well have contained it there. Do you not remember the discussions about the need for that? That's where it all began, officially, and it's the worst affected. It's ground zero. International airport hub...high city.

      By 17th March, London was well past Scotland in terms of infections and deaths when we shut down, but England let it continue to infect the UK because it's London, England, and England is the exception.

      Nobody wants to talk about this; the nats because they'll get called 'anti-English' for trying to save lives, and they need to keep England on side right now because folk voted No in 2014. And unionists don't want to discuss it because they know it's true.

      'Boris the brexiter butcher' is what all the medical experts agree on.

    5. "The idea of test and trace is to allow us to ease lockdown a bit and keep a lid on things."

      No, the idea of test and trace is to suppress the epidemic. The WHO have been urging all countries to do it all along, lockdown or no lockdown. Even in countries where the epidemic was out of control, the WHO were strongly urging that contact tracing should continue wherever possible, eg. in low intensity areas.

      Scotland deserves some *small* credit for doing some *small* things better than the rest of the UK. But we shouldn't have abandoned contact tracing when the UK govt did, we should have stopped large gathering a lot earlier (the Scotland v France match and the Lewis Capaldi concert shouldn't have gone ahead), and we should probably have closed schools earlier as well. We could have saved more lives, probably a lot more. And this isn't just being said with the benefit of hindsight - the WHO advice has been consistent all along, and it was quite simply being ignored by the UK and Scottish governments at the crucial moment whem the epidemic took off.

    6. And with respect, you're largely missing the point about contact tracing. You'd be looking for an infected person's contacts after the infection occurred, ie. his or her contacts in the local area. In an ideal world you'd also trace backwards to the person who infected them, but if you can't do that because it was someone who came to Scotland in a camper van and has since left, it's not the end of the world. That person is effectively someone else's problem. The idea that contact tracing is pointless without border controls is complacent, it's defeatist, it's just wrong on every level. As the WHO make clear, contact tracing should always be attempted wherever possible.

    7. I'm not defeatist, and strongly support test and trace. Also the current lockdown.

      However, I don't know of a single country globally which has not locked down hard on border controls in response to the pandemic. The standard response is to shut to all non-residents for good reason. Norway did this over a month ago.

      Geographical control is key to virus control. It alway is. Right now, we are part of the greater UK containment zone, hence quite badly infected by England.

      I'm not saying test and trace is pointless without border controls, but these would be much less effective. You will have infections popping up all over the place unexplained, and infecting lots of people before they're detected.

      What we need is people coming in to quarantine as required; we need to be able to ask that of rUK folks as much as those from overseas.

      As we know from Korea, china etc, once you get the numbers down, your problem becomes infections arriving at your borders, not from within. China is having problems at the Russian border with people coming back. If they were not tightly controlling it, but it was open as Gretna, the problem would be exploding again all across china.

      Scotland doing test and trace with open border under normal circumstances is ok if the virus is under control in England too. However, if it's not, then there's a massive hole in the defenses. If Scotland eases lock down earlier than England and word gets out that the virus is under control here, you'll have a sudden influx from down south all over again, which is what caused our test and trace to fall down first time. Our 'community transmission' wasn't community, it was international; from England.

      People are still crossing the border freely right now, even with the lockdown. You need to make it illegal without documentation.

      All across the EU normal open borders are closed, with strict controls. Yet here in Scotland, ours is wide open to what is looking like the worst infected country in Europe. It's an absolutely miracle we have so few dead. Than god Holyrood locked down as soon as they got the powers.

  2. I am a Scot who lives in New Zealand, Scotland and New Zealand have roughly the same populations, here in New Zealand we closed our borders to China in February and the the rest of the world in March, this slowed our cases of covid 19, as of today Sunday 19th April we have 9 new cases today and a total of 12 deaths altogether and 1431 cases altogether more than half are considered recovered as of now. We introduced social distancing early and have been in lockdown for almost 4 weeks, tomorrow Jacinda Ardern will decide whether we stay in level 4 lockdown or move to level 3 which is slightly less stringent but most retail cannot be face to face and cafes pubs etc remain closed.

    Scotland as part of the UK was initially correct to allow the UK government to take charge but their absolute failure has led to many thousands of deaths more than necessary. Scotland needs to close its borders to the rest of the world including other parts of the UK, Australian States have closed their borders to Australians who don't reside in their states so it is possible for a unified nation to do this. Here in New Zealand we can't leave our local authority area. These measures are tough but New Zealand has saved countless deaths because of it.

    Also the New Zealand government is subsidising wages for all businesses affected by covid, but unlike the UK's payments ours are paid in full for 12 eeeks for each employee covered within 6 days of their employer applying for the scheme, this means that all employees get $585 dollars per week or 80% of their wage which ever of the two is greater, this means no one previously employed needs assistance from social security and employers are not making unnecessary redundancies. It's a shame Scotland does not have all these tools in its power, but that is what a small independent nation can do

    1. New Zealand is a strong comparator for Scotland in many ways. And it has certainly shown what is possible in this case.

      Now, it is true that Scotland doesn't have the same powers as New Zealand but most of those relate to the economic mitigation which, in the UK, is the least of our issues.

      Scotland doesn't control borders but it is perfectly within competence to set up cordon sanitaires to prevent unnecessary movement anywhere inside its jurisdiction - including just inside the border at road, rail, seaport or airport points of entry. (It may be too late now, but if we had stopped this thing like NZ, we may have been able to keep our major agriculture regions open as normal through cordon sanitaires too.)

      Imagination and political will are the essential tools here. And the Scottish Government seems to have neither.

      This article pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter.

    2. The problem is putting different rules for different people from other UK countries.

      We need to control residents vs non-residents. However, we all have the same passports / are UK citizens, so that's highly problematic, and could end up in court.

      We'd need to have some sort of permit system where only residents of Scotland have an ID document that allows movement here in a more unhindered way. I'm not sure that's legally possible with the powers holyrood has. It's not a localised thing, but would be national, ergo more like lockdown powers, which had to come from Westminster.

    3. Scottish Skier,

      I agree with you here and in your earlier post.

      When the devolved Parliament was set up in 1998, we were told 'everything is devolved, unless specifically excluded.' This, of course was a bit of flummery to convey the impression that it was 'the most powerful devolved legislature in the world.' It was all Mandelsonian spin, to hide the fact that the bits 'reserved' severely limited the SG's course for action, and following the Smith Commission, while some additional powers were transferred, the 'Scottish' Labour Party,led by the most boring man in the world, Mr Iain Gray, fought tooth and nail to try to make the additional powers as weak as possible.

      Scotland does not have control of its borders, because the only land one we have is with England, and "Better Together' kept shouting about the iniquity of border posts at Gretna! Scotland has a fixed budget, with limited borrowing powers, and little scope for carry-forward. There is no Central Bank to create and issue money. Control over the military is very limited.

      So, the scale of the crisis, was such that the SG had to work with the rest of the UK, to get even a proper share, of the vast resources, of which we (and Wales and NI) are part owners.

  3. Are vaccines not based on herd immunity acquired by introducing most of a population to a disease?

    1. Sort of, I think. Vaccines are not designed to give you the killer dose of disease though. I think they are supposed to trigger antibody production. ( unless they maybe just inject the antibodies?)

    2. The population of the world is at a size unimaginable to people in the 19th century and earlier. When the population was smaller, 'herd immunity' was probably able to be achieved more quickly, but, at a cost to a significant proportion of the population.

      The population has risen so much because of 'public health' - clean water, properly disposed sewage, better housing with ventilation, heating and natural light, better food supplies, medical screening, vaccination/immunisation, etc.

      These things are all for the COMMON good. The concept of the 'commons' is something that the neoliberal/ market forces ideologues h ave sought to pooh-pooh and are continuing to do. For the Blair and Brown the neoliberal/market economy was something that had to be accepted and that what they would do was to try to distribute its goods a bit more equitably - not too much, because they wee 'relaxed' about people becoming rich. (particularly many of their own government and party officials.) They failed to make the case for an alternative way of arranging the economy. When the opportunity came in 2008, they transferred huge amounts of public funds to the very people who had caused the crisis. They failed to articulate a feasible alternative scenario, even though these existed and still do.

      Sadly, having undermined the alternative which the election of Mr Corbyn began to put in place, the new Labour leadership are returning to the Blair/Brown mendacity. Mr Corbyn was merely a symbol of an upswing of grassroots ideas, mainly in England, from people beginning to understand socialist analyses of the economy. Sadly, he and they, in England, only had the Labour Party as a vehicle and its controlling clique made sure it was blunted and derailed.

  4. Surely if we look at the economy, which frankly is what politicians are usually most concerned with, a test/trace/isolate policy makes sense. Its probably cheaper than the huge cost of the NHS treating thousands in hospital for a start. It's certainly got to be economically more sensible, allowing people to get back to workand the economy to start recovering. Although I'd suggest we still do that with a 'relaxation' of the rules rather than 'back to normal', keeping a large element of social distancing intact.

  5. I think most sensible people will agree with you ravelin. I believe that Dundee Uni have already advised prospective students that 1st year 1st semester will be delivered online.

    This pile of tossers in Westminster will do as they did before - rely on people and the businesses they operate making their own decisions and then following that line rather than leading the way.
    (By the time we were locked down we had all been shouting for it for a week or so and my company had already transferred 45 out of 55 staff to home working by simply uplifting their computer kit and taking it to their house. And making some hasty IT security changes - so at announcement day we had
    just 10 left to move)
    It’s an opportunity for Scotland to set out clearly what we believe to be the right thing to do based on our own reading of the medical runes, and demanding the funding to pay for whatever our way forward is.

  6. James,

    Thanks for being a voice of sanity in what is an otherwise horrendous situation.

    To anonymous, my understanding of it is that a dead version of the virus is what is injected. Our immune systems cannot identify the difference between a 'dead' and a 'live' version of the virus and creats anti-bodies in both cases. (Though 'live' and 'dead' are probably not the right words to use, it is apparently arguable that virus's are not truly 'alive' until they infect us)

  7. The herald is moaning about 8k/week coming into Scotland 'untracked via airports'.

    I live near the A68 not far from the border. There's far more crossing into Scotland by that route alone right now, and it's one of the quietest roads. I've hardly noticed any change in traffic.

    There was 1.5 million infected and growing in England 3 weeks ago (based on a 1% fatality rate). That's a quarter of Scotland's entire population infected standing on the other side of the border.

    The airports are easy to deal with, our problem is UK transmission because we are part of the UK.

    Unless the Scottish border becomes a real border with controls and monitoring, we are just like rural southern Italy with England/London our Lombardy/Milan and there's nothing we can do about it.

  8. To our deeply offensive "killer sniffle" troll who has attempted to leave at least three comments on this thread: no, coronavirus does not have "the same mortality rate as the seasonal flu".

    The mortality rate of seasonal flu is 0.1% or lower, and whatever the uncertainty, no credible expert believes the figure for coronavirus is as low as that. If it was, you'd have to believe that getting on for 50% of the UK population has already been infected, when in fact early serological studies in other European countries suggests the true number is more likely to be in single digits.

    If you're hellbent on risking the health of your own loved ones, there's nothing I can do to stop you. But please take your dangerous and offensive stupidity elsewhere.

  9. Opinium UK Scottish sample.

    47% SNP
    28% Con
    1% Lib