Apart from having to wear facemasks in certain settings, as of this week all remaining legal restrictions have been removed. And yet, at the weekend, the Office for National Statistics reported that levels of Covid infection hit a record high for two successive weeks, having risen for seven weeks in a row.
More than 375,000 people in Scotland, one in 14, are believed to have been infected with Covid last week.
Scotland is now the worst-affected part of the United Kingdom, despite us having had stricter restrictions – for longer – than elsewhere. The legal requirement to wear a mask was dropped in England last summer, and yet there is no evidence that their enforced use in Scotland has delivered better outcomes for the population here.
Trying to understand what has been going on with Covid was helped by the recent publication of a detailed and informative paper in the medical journal The Lancet. This was the first peer-reviewed global estimate of excess deaths over the first two years of the pandemic – a comprehensive study which should help provide the basis of policy making as we go forward.
This paper makes the case that there is no clear relationship between levels of excess mortality, and different levels of restrictions. What does make a difference is vaccination, where the UK, including Scotland, has performed well.
Over the last two years, Scotland has had tighter restrictions, and for longer, than have applied in England. What our most recent experience tells us, along with this new research, is that this approach may have provided little benefit in terms of helping reduce the incidence of Covid, whilst it has undoubtedly brought with it substantial costs.
When we, in time, look back at all the decisions taken by politicians over the past two years, and weigh them against the available evidence, we will be able to make an assessment as to who made the right calls. As it stands, it doesn’t look like Scotland can claim any degree of superiority over our neighbours.