Leader - Data to justify Covid restrictions must be published

Covid-induced uncertainty abounds as festivities draw to a close and 2022 begins. Will children be able to return to schools from holiday as planned? Will businesses in the hospitality sector that have survived despite restrictions over Christmas have to endure those curbs for much longer? Are the restrictions proportionate, given that the Omicron variant appears to be significantly less deadly than previous strains?

Revellers who travelled from Dundee take a selfie during Hogmanay celebrations in Newcastle, after street parties were banned in Scotland due to rising cases of coronavirus. Photo: Nigel Roddis/PA Wire
Revellers who travelled from Dundee take a selfie during Hogmanay celebrations in Newcastle, after street parties were banned in Scotland due to rising cases of coronavirus. Photo: Nigel Roddis/PA Wire

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has said the Scottish Government’s “absolute priority” is to keep schools open as cases remain high, with pupils urged to take tests at home and come forward for doses of vaccine. Teaching unions are calling for ministers to go further by funding air-cleaning units and providing extra cash to cover the costs of supply staff while teachers self-isolate due to Covid.

Changes announced by ministers could take effect in schools from Wednesday. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is also under pressure to bring Scotland into line with the rest of the UK on cutting the required period of self-isolation from ten days to seven. Such a move would ease staffing pressures for schools, businesses and the NHS.

A relaxation this month of rules on gatherings and social distancing would come too late for some firms in the hospitality sector that had hoped for a much-needed boost over Christmas and New Year to allow them to survive into 2022. Those worst affected will question why Scotland has faced tougher curbs than the rest of the UK.

Evidence from England suggests at least a third of hospital patients with coronavirus were admitted for something else. Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has said such data exists for Scotland but will not be published until it is “quality assured”. But it is reasonable to expect a higher than normal degree of urgency in making this information publicly available. It would also be instructive to know the vaccination status of those in hospital because of Covid.

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The available evidence suggests a combination of the vaccination programme and the now-dominant milder Omicron strain mean the dynamics of the virus have changed. The public should expect the publication of data that will enable it to judge how effectively the Scottish Government has responded.