Readers' Letters: MPs’ Covid findings come as no surprise

The House of Commons report (Scotsman, 12 October) on the UK’s horrifically high Covid death rate comes as no surprise.

Even Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh was wearing a face mask as the country went into lockdown for the first time

Public health was undermined by a decade of Tory cuts. Public Health England’s budget was cut by 40 per cent between 2013 and 2019. Public health departments were transferred from the NHS to the local authorities and then had their funding cut as local authority budgets were slashed.

The government failed to prepare for a pandemic. In the run-up to 2020, any emergency planning carried out was focused not on pandemic threats but on the potential consequences of Brexit.

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The government refused to learn from other countries. It was slow to adopt measures to contain the virus such as face coverings, border controls and contact tracing to identify infection clusters.

The government squandered £37.5 billion on a centralised test and tracing system that was outsourced to private company Serco that still doesn’t work.

The government focused on the downstream hospital response and ignored the upstream public health response needed to prevent the spread of the virus at the outset.

Inconsistent, mixed messaging undermined public trust. Lifting all protections in mid-July fed the public perception that the pandemic was over when infection levels and hospitalisations were ten times what they were the year before. A failure to financially support infected people so they could self-isolate guaranteed further viral spread.

This is a UK, not Scottish government, failure. Scotland has the lowest infection rate in the UK and second lowest death rate, 30 per cent lower than England.

This was achieved despite Scotland being able to control pandemic measures only at the end of March 2020 and being unable to borrow to save businesses and support those in need.

An independent Scotland would have acted differently, saving thousands of lives.

Leah Gunn Barrett, Edinburgh

Myths busted

It is now very clear that the report issued by cross-party committees at Westminster on the UK Government’s initial handling of the Covid crisis completely busts the well-spun myth that Nicola Sturgeon was far superior and supposedly different in her handling of this crisis.

Additionally, the committee’s report (with two SNP MP members!) did not have to consider the implications of not telling the Scottish public of the Nike conference outbreak.

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If Nicola Sturgeon wants us to believe that she is all about transparency, accountability and responsibility, then she must immediately establish a Scottish Parliamentary inquiry to establish the truth.

Any further spin or obfuscation on this matter would be an insult to us all.

Richard Allison, Edinburgh

Pull no punches

The UK parliament’s inquiry into Covid pulled no punches. They were trying to find reasons and perhaps prevent ever making the same mistakes again. There was no partisanship among the group of MPs chosen to conduct the inquiry and the select committee leader was a member of the governing party. The conclusions were unambiguous and spared no one.

Compare/contrast with what a similar inquiry in Scotland would produce. Nicola Sturgeon and her hapless ministers would be shielded from any criticism, no matter how much it was warranted, by force of numbers and hand-picked participants, before, for one reason or another, the whole matter was kicked into the long grass. Every fatal faux pas would be brushed aside.

Could we perhaps assemble a cross-party committee from the UK parliament to ask the questions in Scotland and reach any conclusions based on evidence, not allegiance?

Alexander McKay, Edinburgh

Inquiry is coming

As the Scottish Government is in the process of preparing a judge-led inquiry into the handling of Covid, calls for a parliamentary inquiry would be a waste of time and effort given the tribal nature of politics at Holyrood. To date, the Welsh Labour government has refused to commit to holding an inquiry into its handling of the pandemic.

Any inquiry should examine Scotland’s lack of border controls and borrowing powers to enforce an earlier lockdown and that it was only when Scotland diverged from the UK approach that we got on top of the virus, with the resultant better figures than elsewhere. It should also examine the preparedness of private care homes to accept and isolate hospital discharges.

Opposition politicians at Holyrood have memory problems as in early March 2020 they were demanding that Nicola Sturgeon free up hospital beds to cope with the expected tsunami of patients and at that time Nicola Sturgeon was criticised for pushing for lockdown while Boris Johnson was shaking hands with Covid patients and saying it was business as usual.

In stark contrast to England’s expensive PPE procurement scandal, Audit Scotland found that the Scottish Government acted fairly and appropriately when awarding contracts.

Covid mistakes were made, but we should be grateful for our much better performing NHS Scotland.

Mary Thomas, Edinburgh

Rural buses

Derek Farmer (Letters, 13 October) asks why we have empty rural buses running all day long and who pays for them.

He might also ask what pollution do they cause. In my part of the Black Isle we also have empty or near-empty large diesel buses passing through both ways all day, except at 6.15 when we have two, obviously to cope with the increase in imaginary passengers.

Brian Urquhart, Culbokie, Highland

Painless jabs

We were given the same venue, date and time for our flu vaccination, were seen – together – within minutes of the appointed time and were also offered our Covid booster, which of course we took.

Remarkably almost all of the couples in the waiting room and post-jab rest room were either fellow villagers or friends from other parts of Dumfries, so hats off to our NHS staff for the sheer efficiency of this operation.

However, could it also have had something to do with the fact that this centre was one set up with military assistance at the beginning of the vaccination programme?

Dr A McCormick, Terregles, Dumfries and Galloway

Forster’s forecast

For those of us who have not seen the Academy-awarded Netflix film, My Octopus Teacher, Philip Lymbery’s article (Scotsman, 11 October) was a revelation.

It remains difficult, however, for anyone uninfluenced by the film's fascinating account to see the octopus as anything other than a sinister monster of the deep – unless, of course, we are regarding it merely as a tapas item.

But alongside Philip Lymbery's eulogy yp the octopus we should consider your report of September 7: "Scientists develop stretchy robot worms to get into those tight spots". These operate autonomously and are capable of a form of proprioception, by which animals sense their position.

I would direct readers' attention to EM Forster's short story, The Machine Stops, written in 1909. Perhaps because we are now so familiar with isolation from other humans and prefer in many instances to communicate by video link or perhaps because its author achieved more fame with his full-length novel set in the days of the British Raj, we are not impressed by Forster's extraordinary prescience. Even Vashti's thousands of "friends" whom she has never met fail to surprise.

What does linger in the mind is a vision of the Machine's mending apparatus, with its terrifying autonomous white worms whose target is to seek and capture any object not created by the Machine.

Forster reveals the basis upon which he has built his prognosis: the many-cultured polymaths of the 19th century were to be replaced by "experts", each a master in his own field, who have extended their competence exponentially until no-one (and the Council seems to be a fiction) but the Machine itself understands its functions, giving it sole exercise of power.

It has become God.

Mary Rolls, Jedburgh, Scottish Borders

Circus acts

When the categories of failure of the current SNP administration at Holyrood are added up, anyone researching their period in charge will have rich pickings to dwell upon. Whether it be the failure to build two ferries which have cost over £100 million while they rust (in a Clyde shipyard which the SNP have nationalised), only to end up buying a second-hand Norwegian ferry to do the job, or presiding over the twin failures of the Death Star in Glasgow and Sick Kids in Edinburgh, their failures are a joke.

They also refused to join a successful UK Covid passport scheme and created one which no other country recognises (which is surely one of its main purposes?) and penalises the entire Scottish hospitality industry; they are presiding over tumbling educational standards; pretending that women do not exist and that men can have cervixes; buying an airport no one uses; guaranteeing hundred of millions to a company which has been under considerable scrutiny since it failed to make repayments due and so many other matters relating to wind farms, BiFab, and told out-and-out lies about Scottish history in their online website which had to be suddenly withdrawn.

Such an administration is best described as a circus. It comes as no surprise, then to discover that Lorna Slater, co-Leader of the Scottish Greens, whose party is in a coalition with the SNP is a part-time trapeze artist!

Andrew HN Gray, Edinburgh

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