Hopes dashed for full easing of crowd restrictions ahead of Premiership return

The prospects of the Scottish government announcing on Tuesday an easing of the 500-person limit on spectators at major outdoor events for the resumption of cinch Premiership on January 17 have been placed in question following comments made by national clinical director Jason Leitch on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland.

National Clinical Director of the Scottish Government Jason Leitch, main, has been speaking on restrictions.
National Clinical Director of the Scottish Government Jason Leitch, main, has been speaking on restrictions.

Responding to a question as to whether the peak of the wave from the omicron variant of Covid-19 had come earlier than expected, Leitch reiterated that this was in line with expectations of a “mid-to-late January peak” – precisely when top flight football in the country will return.

He went on to state it was right to continue to protect the public with the measures in place when case rates remained at their current levels, dashing some hope that the Scottish government will set these aside for both attendees at outdoor and indoor venues, which has led to the closure of nightclubs and concert venues as well as resulting in only 500 supporters being allowed to attend games at lower league games in the past fortnight.

Leitch’s cautious approach follows on from health minister Humza Yousaf stating last week that the next fortnight for the NHS would be the “most challenging” it had faced in its 73-year history.

It is difficult to see capacity football crowds as of January 17 pitched into the current health situation facing the country that is entwined with so many employee absences as those testing positive isolate for the recently reduced seven-day isolation period.

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Leitch spoke of the “fundamental question” relating to restrictions as “should we still be protecting the public from these case rates if they're just going to go anyway?” He went on: "I think yes is the answer to that. I think the protections reduce the size of the wave and they potentially also elongate the wave to allow you to get more people vaccinated, allow you to spread the hospitalisations and intensive care cases out over a longer period. That's got to be good.

"Now that's not always good if you own a pub or if you own a nursery and people are having to self-isolate. It's a real balance in there between the number of cases and the number of people off work. We've tried to make some adjustments in our advice to allow people to do that. But I still think it is the right thing to do to try and reduce that case rate, even if it's not as severe a disease. Because if you have 2,000 cases per 100,000 over a seven-day period, there is no way, up until this point after a year of vaccination, we'd have been allowing what we're allowing around the country."

Frustrations within Scottish football have been intensified because of the absence of any crowd limits in the English game, with few restrictions down south overall. It has led to a myopia among some in the country that was tackled head on last week by Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford, whose country has similar restrictions to Scotland. “The outlier here is not Wales. Wales is taking action. As is Scotland. As is Northern Ireland. And as are countries right across Europe and right across the globe,” he said.

Leitch made similar points about the contract north and south of the border. "It isn't [a case of] no restrictions in England. The restrictions in England are face coverings, work from home when you can, there's distancing – there are all kinds of human behaviour changes across every country in the world. Let's go to the Netherlands instead of England and find a much more restricted country than in Scotland, a much more severe version of these restrictions.

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"Every country is finding a balance between their moment in the pandemic, their science and what they think predicted next steps are. The government tomorrow will look at the data from Friday – the big evidence paper that was published by Public Health Scotland on the state of the pandemic, looking at the number of people vaccinated, the difference vaccination is making to cases, to hospitalisations and to deaths. Very significant differences but still a very high case rate."

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