Analysis: Singletons and shielders get a boost, but lockdown patience is fraying
It was the tricky second album stage for Nicola Sturgeon today.
Since March she has successfully convinced the Scottish public to stay at home and three weeks ago, with the first easing up of lockdown, she hit all the right notes with her cautious approach to letting folk back out.
Of course, give an inch and people take a mile, so it was never really within her grasp to keep as tight a control of the reins as she had previously been able. Still, all in all, people were reasonably satisfied with being able to see one other household in their gardens, or outdoors elsewhere. It made the monotony slightly more bearable.
Today though, she was facing a higher hurdle. For the last seven weeks numbers of people with coronavirus, and numbers of those dying as a result, have been falling. While the First Minister would like the virus to be eliminated before lockdown is totally unlocked, she is all too aware that people’s nerves are beginning to fray; patience is running out.
The Black Lives Matter marches, the Loyalist protests, even the groups of folk on beaches in the May sun, do not appear to have led to new flare ups of Covid-19. People, especially those who have not felt the painful reality of losing a loved one, want her to move faster – many business owners are watching their livelihoods seep away, single households are craving company, and parents are concerned about the plans for schools returning after the summer holiday and the “blended learning” that will have to happen.
All too aware of this, in her statement to Holyrood Nicola Sturgeon was at pains to stress that the virus had not gone away, that it remained as deadly as ever, and her rule of thumb is to always save lives.
Still, the stay at home message has been dropped, for one that is more nebulous. Stay safe will put all the onus on those who go out and about to use their common sense – though lacking that face coverings will now be mandatory on public transport, and there are considerations to do the same for when people are in shops. And there’ll be many more shops open soon.
For those shielding for the last four months there was good news – they can now go out for exercise, and even meet with people from another household as long as physical distancing is in place. And for singletons, be they parents or not, they can now meet up and form an exclusive “bubble” with another single household, with the social distancing dropped – allowing couples who were not living together to, well… get together.
No get-togethers though in beer gardens or other places of hospitality. The evidence, she said, suggested that would be too risky a move yet – however offering an olive branch to the industry, she said the government was continually reviewing the two-metre distance rule with a view to reducing it, thereby potentially allowing many restaurants, pubs and cafes a chance to get back to businesses properly when they do get the green light.
Her statement was methodical and cautious. But the pressure is on – as the tone of the questions from opposition MSPs made clear – that people want to see clear plans in place for rebooting the Scottish economy, for test and protect to be working to capacity, and for getting people back to work and children to school.
The First Minister has three weeks to show that, if coronavirus cases keep dropping as they have, she is prepared to move as fast as she did on implementing lockdown, on preventing an economic and education crisis.
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