Covid Scotland: 10 questions that must be asked and answered as part of Scotland’s Covid inquiry
Since the first positive case of coronavirus was discovered in Scotland in February 2020, the lives of Scots have changed in ways previously thought unthinkable.
Almost 10,500 people have died with Covid-19 mentioned on death certificates, while the entire population has been told to “stay at home” many times, and further travel and social restrictions have also been imposed.
Schools have been closed for months on end, with children forced into isolation, with learning moved online.
The public inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of the pandemic will be wide-reaching. The judge-led inquiry will establish facts, determine the explanations for decisions taken, consider if and how different outcomes could have been achieved, establish any lessons to be learned and make recommendations the inquiry considers appropriate.
Marcus Shepheard, senior researcher at think tank the Institute for Government, said the inquiry would need to consider what was known at the time when decisions were made, rather than using the benefit of hindsight and scientific knowledge only uncovered later.
He said: “There are genuine questions and concerns that the actions and decisions governments took were either inadequate or untimely or misguided, not necessarily for malicious reason. But essentially, better outcomes could have been achieved, if things were done differently.
It’s about what we knew at the time and what evidence she and her ministers used to make those decisions. I think that is at the core of the inquiry.”
Here we consider the main issues likely to be considered.
Care homes Nicola Sturgeon has already admitted the way residents were discharged from hospital without a Covid test, resulting in the virus spreading into facilities, was a “mistake”. "The number of people who died were too many and we got some things wrong and I feel the responsibility of that every single day," she said However, she emphasised the decision was made “with the benefit of knowledge we have now but did not have then”. Other issues include visiting rights. In many cases, families believe enforced isolation hastened the decline of patients with illnesses such as dementia. Education In March 2020, schools closed.Teachers had to try to continue education online, however, results were mixed. The vast majority of schools did not re-open until August, only to be closed for another three months following Christmas . In some cases, children did not have access to connected devices, while for others, online learning proved too difficult. A report from A Place in Childhood said some found it too stressful, when there was little access to interaction and no video classes. Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s commissioner Scotland, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has been a human rights crisis and the impact on children and young people serious and potentially long-lasting. Children and young people’s rights to education, health, family life and to gather with friends have all been infringed by the Covid-19 pandemic. "Much of the emergency legislation was passed by the Scottish and UK Parliaments at speed and without the opportunity for robust or detailed scrutiny.” PPE provision and prepardness At the beginning of the pandemic, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was in short supply for medical staff. According to a report published by Audit Scotland, less than a day's worth of some supplies was held at points in April 2020, when hospitals were overwhelmed with cases. The watchdog said the Scottish Government could have been better prepared and did not follow all the recommendations on PPE from previous training exercises. The government has repeatedly stressed that “Scotland never ran out of PPE”. Border control During the pandemic, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly suggested the Scottish Government’s aim was for “zero Covid”. However, differing views to Prime Minister Boris Johnson made it difficult to stop imported Covid cases coming in from England. She was, however the first of the four nation leaders to implement hotel quarantine for anyone coming directly to Scotland from overseas, a policy which came under fire from people with family abroad. Confusion over whether children needed to quarantine in a hotel also caused problems. The Scottish Government also came up against criticism when it warned people not to travel to Manchester and other areas of north west England, which was experiencing a surge in cases. Civil liberties Emergency legislation which allowed the Scottish Government to enforce rules telling people to remain at home and only go out for essential purposes – or restrict the right to travel outside of their local area – was unprecedented. Hospitality venues were closed and people were banned from meeting others outside their household. The inquiry is likely to look at whether all restrictions implemented were justified. Impact on business While a number of business support measures will not be covered by the inquiry, due to the fact they were introduced by Westminster , other decisions which have an impact on companies, such as the duration and severity of lockdown measures, will be. Nightclubs remained shut for more than 18 months, , while hospitality businesses have had to make changes to ensure they were compliant with social distancing policies. The Scottish Government also had its own package of support measures for businesses which could be analysed by the inquiry. Relationship with other UK nations The inquiry could look at the relationship between the Scottish Government at the other three nations of the UK and how that affected the response to the pandemic. While the first couple of months saw Scotland and England fairly closely aligned in terms of policy, the countries later diverged over some issues, with Wales and Northern Ireland also implementing their own versions of prevention policies. Other health impacts Mental health has been a major problem during the pandemic, as people struggled with isolation. This has been acknowledged by the Scottish Government, which announced that 10 per cent of frontline health spending will be dedicated to mental health as part of its £1bn NHS recovery plan. Early in the pandemic, many non-essential NHS services were stopped to make capacity for Covid patients, meaning many people were not diagnosed early with illnesses such as cancer. It has been estimated there have been more than 7,000 missed cancer cases as a result. Deaths Unlike other many public inquiries, the scale of the number of deaths will mean the individual impact of every death cannot be examined. Almost 10,500 people in Scotland have died with Covid-19 mentioned on their death certificate. However, the number of deaths and whether they could have been prevented from a systemic point of view, is likely to be considered. However, deaths as a direct result of coronairus will not be the only fatalities considered.Since March 2020, 26,730 people have died at home or outside a hospital or care setting - an increase of 7,826 on the five-year average. Figures from the National Registers of Scotland for the first quarter of 2021 found deaths were 10 per cent higher than the same period a year earlier. Communications and messaging Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly said she wanted to be as transparent as possible during the pandemic. However, the government’s televised daily Covid briefings came under fire from critics who claimed they gave her an opportunity to promote herself and the SNP ahead of the Holyrood election.
What will not be covered?
Under the terms of the Inquiries Act 2005, an inquiry started by one government within the UK cannot investigate decisions made by another government without its permission. As a result, issues which will not be looked at include Westminster-led initiatives such as the furlough scheme and the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which offered incentives for customers to dine in restaurants last summer and has been said to have driven a rise in cases in some areas.
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