Jack Fawcett has the latest on the impact of coronavirus in Scotland.
As of Monday, 171 people have tested positive for Coronavirus in Scotland following 4,895 tests, with the first death of a patient coming last Friday. Calls on the First Minister to act decisively and listen to scientific evidence beyond all else have snowballed in recent weeks, and this is expected to continue as the outbreak spreads. The Scottish Government has begun ramping up efforts to contain the virus, whilst criticising the UK Government’s methods of sharing information. Following the introduction of daily press conferences by both governments to keep the public informed, it will be interesting to see whether Scotland takes a fundamentally different path than the rest of the UK with regards to containment and treatment. While some have chosen more novel approaches to brave the outbreak, Scotland faces its own unique set of challenges, both in terms of health and social care provision, education, and business impacts.
Health & Care:
The health and social care sector has been gearing up in light of the worsening impact of the virus, with surveillance testing for coronavirus being expanded to GP practices, covering 1.2 million people across Scotland, and acquiring 700 new ventilator systems for frontline staff. The Scottish Government has also suggested the public should only contact their GP or NHS 111 if their symptoms worsen. Nicola Sturgeon said: “At a time when there is severe pressure on our fantastic emergency and public services as a result of the virus, it is only right that we seek to remove unnecessary burdens on frontline workers.” The effects of coronavirus on social care services are also beginning to show. The Care Inspectorate has published an update for care service providers regarding the coronavirus outbreak, deciding to limit the number of inspections it carries out and to make visits only when “absolutely necessary”. Advice beyond the remit of the Government has encouraged good mental health practice to target the impact of the virus those with anxiety and OCD, and protecting older people from the loneliness symptomatic of social isolation.
Following the establishment of a COVID-19 helpline for Scottish businesses last Friday, the Scottish Government has begun a series of major steps to curb the impact of coronavirus on businesses across Scotland. On Saturday, Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, announced a £320m package of support for the business community. The package included: 75% rates relief for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors; an £80m fund for small business grants to those sectors worst affected by the outbreak; 1.6% rates relief for properties across Scotland; and fixed rates relief for all properties. The Fraser of Allander Institute has highlighted the importance of timing and the variety of impact across different sectors of the Scottish economy, emphasising the impact on those businesses that rely on “social spending” such as restaurants, retail, entertainment and tourism.
Education and the Impact of Closures:
School, colleges and higher education institutions across Scotland have begun contingency planning to close in response to the outbreak. The Scottish Government has published guidance advising against gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday that could last for up to four months. Schools in Scotland remain open, however, there could be closures of up to sixteen weeks if the outbreak continues to escalate, with some schools closing to “deep clean”. Universities and colleges across Scotland have announced moves towards online teaching and examinations to help curb the spread of coronavirus, with some campuses calling on students not to attend in person from Monday.
Coming up this week:
Following a media briefing today by the First Minister, the Scottish Government will begin daily on-camera briefings to provide information and advice on the pandemic. On Tuesday, there will be a Ministerial Statement on coronavirus by Jeanne Freeman to the Scottish Parliament. The effect of the coronavirus continues to affect Scottish society and government policy on a daily basis, so the challenges today might not reflect those in a week’s time. The threat of misinformation and both over and under-preparation could lead to terrible consequences, so pay close attention to how the Scottish Government chooses to face the choppy waters ahead.