Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon can't answer key questions about Omicron but imposes restrictions anyway – Murdo Fraser MSP

Thanks to the dedication of staff and the discipline of the public, our NHS was not been overwhelmed by Covid this Christmas, despite record high case numbers.

That is a cause for national thanks. But the inability, or unwillingness, of our SNP leaders to be straight with us about the real impact of Omicron – and how that justifies further restrictions on our lives – is a cause of national pain.

Last week at Holyrood, I asked the First Minister two apparently simple questions. Firstly, how many Scots have been hospitalised because of Covid.

We know how many people are in hospital with Covid, what we do not know is how many of those have been admitted with Covid as the primary reason, or for how many Covid is incidental (where, for example, someone arrives with a broken limb and is only found to have Covid when tested).

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Figures from England suggest that fewer than half of hospital admissions there are because of Covid, but in Scotland we haven’t been given the data.

Secondly, I asked how many of those in hospital, or in ICU, are unvaccinated. Again, figures from elsewhere suggest that the overwhelming majority of those hospitalised because of Covid have not been vaccinated, but the figures for Scotland haven’t been published.

Surely this is essential public information, the publication of which would reinforce that messages about the importance of vaccinations and boosters in protecting against Covid?

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Nicola Sturgeon has imposed more Draconian public health measures than currently apply in England (Picture: Andy Buchanan/PA)

Nicola Sturgeon couldn’t answer my questions, and neither could the Health Secretary Humza Yousaf when he was asked the same by the BBC later in the day.

It is extraordinary that neither the First Minister, nor the man in charge of the NHS in Scotland as we move towards the end of the second year of this pandemic, know the answers to basic questions, nor indeed do they seem capable of asking the basic questions they should be asking if they were seriously in charge.

At the time of writing there is one Scot, thankfully just one, in intensive care infected with Omicron. Whether they are there because of Omicron, or for some other reason, is not publicly known.

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Mr Yousaf said last week that he could not say how many people were in intensive care because of Covid, or if they were not vaccinated, because he feared that might identify them.

Let me offer him this observation. A pandemic effects thousands, millions, of people. If the number of patients suffering gets down to such a small number that people can guess their names and addresses, it is not a pandemic.

Scotland has more Draconian public health measures than currently apply in England. This week we also recorded the highest number of infections, per head of population. Surely that begs many questions about the efficacy of Scottish government policy, but none of them is either asked or answered by our current leaders.

To be fair to Nicola Sturgeon, for months now she has been trying to tell us how overwhelming she finds her job. Uniquely amongst UK leaders, she seems to emphasise how heavily dealing with the pandemic is weighing upon her shoulders. What a burden the people of Scotland seem to have given her to carry. How much she hates taking decisions, she says, no one wants to take.

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If she was ever strong enough to lead us through this, no one can argue that she doesn’t look weary now. In some ways, it is a testament to her conscience that her Covid policies have left their scars upon her.

Ms Sturgeon’s decision not to tell the people of Scotland about the first outbreak of Covid in Edinburgh at the Nike conference must weigh heavily upon her mind. Her decision to allow almost 70,000 rugby fans to gather at Murrayfield just a few days later must be a matter of regret. Then allowing, ordering, thousands of patients infected with Covid to be discharged to care homes must be a matter of crushing shame for the First Minister.

If we needed just one example of how she has failed to grasp the nature of this pandemic it was surely her claim, in July 2020, that she had “almost” eradicated Covid from Scotland. Perhaps that record of misjudgement is why she is so authoritarian in her responses to the crisis now, no matter the effects.

Regretting her earlier indecision, her lack of perspective, seems to have driven the First Minister to extreme action. Her head may not think things through but her knee jerks quicker than ever. And so on Hogmanay in Glasgow, six police vans turned up to a public house to turf law-abiding people out on to the street, apparently because someone was seen dancing through the window.

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Perhaps, unable to tell us how many people are in hospital because of Covid and unable to eradicate it by press conference decree, the First Minister’s latest order is to demand Police Scotland go out and arrest the virus.

As we could see from the scenes from Newcastle at the weekend, with young Scots travelling across the Border to enjoy a New Year party they were denied here, the public will put up with Covid restrictions only for so long as they feel that they can be justified.

People know that Omicron spreads rapidly, but they are also starting to believe that its effects are likely to be much less serious on the vaccinated than the previous Delta strain.

After nearly two years of restrictions and disruption, is it any wonder that they are starting to push back against government rules for which the evidence hasn’t been produced?

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If the First Minister and her colleagues want public buy-in to their ongoing restrictions, then they need to start being open with people about the real impacts of Omicron. Keeping us in the dark is just going to build resentment and distrust.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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