Scotland

No Evidence Tougher Restrictions in Wales and Scotland Have Done Very Much, Scientists Say

The tougher Covid restrictions in Scotland and Wales over winter and throughout the pandemic may not have been worth it as there is no evidence they have “really done very much”, scientists have said. MailOnline has more.

Nicola Sturgeon is still yet to commit to a date for ending work from home guidance, despite England dumping the advice last week, while Mark Drakeford is refusing to lift the highly-controversial ‘rule of six’ for another four days.

Both nations resorted to tougher Covid curbs than England early on in the pandemic, and kept people living under economically-crippling curbs for longer.

But experts told MailOnline they could not see a “huge amount of difference” in the cumulative death rates between England and the rest of the U.K.

And they argued Omicron waves panned out similarly across the home nations, even though Downing St slipped through on relatively few rules. 

This is despite Scotland cancelling New Year’s Eve celebrations and Mr Drakeford accusing England of being a “global outlier” for Boris Johnson’s gamble to adopt no extra measures. Ms Sturgeon said yesterday Scotland’s tougher festive curbs were “worth it”, arguing they kept infection rates below levels south of the border. 

Latest statistics from the Department of Health show England saw the lowest Covid infection rate over the Christmas period, even though it was leading the way until December 23rd.

This is despite No 10 refusing to cave in to demands for lockdown. Instead only ‘Plan B’ was introduced, which saw work from home guidance reimposed, face masks in public places and controversial vaccine passports required for nightclubs and other large indoor venues.

SAGE advisers say the Omicron wave fizzled out on its own because of behavioural changes that led to people being more cautious, as opposed to natural immunity causing the outbreak to peak. …

Scotland was quick to impose tighter curbs in December as the nation reeled over the arrival of the Omicron variant, which policymakers feared would spark a big wave in hospitalisations.

About a week after the first case was confirmed, Scottish health chiefs started advising the public not to attend Christmas parties – unlike their counterparts in England.

And as concern over its spread ramped up, Scots were then told not to gather with more than three households and supermarkets asked to impose a one-way system in an echo of the worst of the pandemic.

Imposing ever harsher curbs, Ms Sturgeon then ordered night clubs to close for three weeks and called off public gatherings for New Year’s Eve.

Wales trod a similar path, bringing in a raft of restrictions on Boxing Day that saw sporting events played behind closed doors, the ‘rule of six’ return in pubs, cinemas and restaurants, and nightclubs shuttered.

Mr Drakeford also brought back the two-metre social distancing rule in public places and offices.

Northern Ireland closed nightclubs from December 26th and even prohibited dancing in pubs and restaurants. They also reimposed table service. 

For comparison, England only went as far as ‘Plan B’ – which included making face masks compulsory in indoor public places and bringing in vaccine passports for larger venues. No10 also pivoted back to advising people to work from home wherever possible.

But ministers never went as far as calling off New Year’s Eve celebrations, or bringing back tighter Covid curbs such as the ‘rule of six’, despite calls from some quarters. 

Despite evidence that the curbs had made little difference on the trajectory of the Omicron wave, some scientists said they still appeared to be worth it.

Professor Gary McLean, an immunologist at London Metropolitan University, said: “I do think it was worth it, based on the unknown factor of Omicron. It’s too easy to look back with hindsight and say England got it right.

“There was too much unknown about Omicron at the time the measures were put in place… I think England got lucky.”

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said: “It is difficult to see any evidence that tougher restrictions in Scotland actually had an impact over and above what we were seeing in England.”

In another sign tougher restrictions were not needed, England’s cumulative Covid death rate – the total number of fatalities per 100,000 people – still trails behind that of Wales.

This is despite Wales for instance imposing a circuit-breaker lockdown in late October and bringing in the five-mile rule asking people not to travel further than this distance from their home.

Scotland has also been tougher with its Covid restrictions, keeping face masks in place on public transport for weeks longer than England, while Northern Ireland took the longest to start easing the third lockdown.

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Reading University, said: “The different restrictions between the nations have not made a huge amount of difference (in terms of Covid deaths). 

“They are all in the same ball park of deaths per capita. It does not suggest that tougher restrictions that Wales or Scotland have put in place have really done very much.”

Disappointing that SAGE is still refusing to recognise that surges naturally peak and decline owing to the development of (variant and season specific) herd immunity, rather than “behaviour change”. This is why their modelling is always wrong: they make poor assumptions and don’t learn from what actually happens. As for Professor McLean’s “England got lucky” – what is that supposed to mean, and would Prof. McLean care to point to the area of immunology this hypothesis falls under?

Worth reading in full.

Glorious Leader Nic Sturge-on Refuses to Rule Out Mask Wearing For Years and Attacks England as ‘Outlier’

Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said mask rules could remain in place for years as they are “not the biggest handicap” people are having to endure. MailOnline has more.

Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland’s mask rules could remain in place for years to come if they help the fight against Covid today – as she blasted Boris Johnson‘s decision to axe most restrictions from this week.

The First Minister said that face coverings were “not the biggest handicap” that people were having to endure as the country attempts to recover from Covid.

A range of measures introduced on Boxing Day to deal with the Omicron variant will be scrapped from tomorrow, but laws making masks mandatory in shops and other settings with [sic] remain.

In contrast, the Prime Minister has unveiled a bonfire of almost all restrictions in England by March, including guidance on masks.

Asked on the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme today if she can see people wearing masks for “months or years to come”, in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said:

“I hope not. I don’t want any of these measures to be in place for any longer than is necessary. But masks … are something we can do. None of us enjoy wearing them but they are perhaps not the biggest handicap to endure in order to try to stem transmission. So while they can make a difference to controlling the virus then I think it is something we should do. Again I would suggest that it is England that is the outlier here, not Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, or many countries across the world.”

Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery, Murdo Fraser said:

“Nicola Sturgeon still can’t bring herself to admit the restrictions she imposed over Christmas were unnecessary. The SNP are quick to impose Covid rules but far too slow in getting vital funding to businesses. It’s shameful that so many small companies are still waiting to receive a single penny. It’s baffling that Nicola Sturgeon plans to continue with the vaccine passport scheme even though she can’t point to any hard evidence showing it’s effective.” …

From tomorrow, bars and restaurants in Scotland will no longer only be able to serve customers seated at tables, while social distancing will also be removed. 

Nightclubs will also be allowed to reopen as she sweeps away restrictions in place since before Christmas, while plans to extend the Covid passport scheme have been scrapped.

Attendance limits on indoor events will also be lifted – bringing them into line with outdoor events in a move that came into effect yesterday. 

However baseline coronavirus measures in place before the Omicron wave will remain, including masks are still legally required indoors and on public transport.

In contrast in England, Mr Johnson last week announced plans to scrap all Covid restrictions by the spring.

Plan B will also be ditched as the Omicron wave continued to recede.

The under-fire PM ended working from home with immediate effect, with the remaining Omicron-fighting measures – Covid passports and compulsory face masks – to be dropped from Thursday in an attempt to win back the support of Tory MPs and voters following the Partygate row.

He also laid out his intentions to remove all remaining Covid laws by March 24th, including basic measures like mandatory self-isolation for positive cases and the requirement to give your address to NHS Test and Trace if you have Covid.

Scotland’s approach is similar to Wales’s, where even ‘Alert Level Zero’ retains the mask mandate, vaccine passports and self-isolation laws. Will they ever let it be over?

Worth reading in full.

Scotland’s Glorious Leader Nic Sturge-on Graciously Allows Pub Customers to be Served Standing Up

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has agreed to lift those Covid restrictions brought in to combat the Omicron variant, admitting the country is on the “downward slope” of infections. MailOnline has more.

From next Monday, January 24th, bars and restaurants will no longer only be able to serve customers seated at tables, while social distancing will also be removed.

Nightclubs will also be allowed to reopen as she sweeps away restrictions in place since before Christmas, while plans to extend the Covid passport scheme have been scrapped.

Attendance limits on indoor events will also be lifted – bringing them into line with outdoor events in a move that came into effect yesterday.

However baseline coronavirus measures in place before the Omicron wave will remain, including masks are still legally required indoors and on public transport.

The First Minister also announced the Scottish Government would not be expanding its vaccine certification scheme into new venues with the Tories demanding it be scrapped entirely.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament today, Ms Sturgeon said statistics showed a “significant fall” in new cases, though the NHS remained under “acute pressure”.

She said: “Taking all of this into account, and triangulating the various sources of data, allows us to say with some confidence that the rise in cases driven by Omicron peaked in the first week of January and that we are now on the downward slope of this wave of cases.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Daily Covid cases have dropped by 20%, week-on-week, and Sajid Javid hints that ‘Plan B’ restrictions will be “substantially reduced” next week. MailOnline has more.

Supreme Leader Nic Sturge-on Tells Scots They May Have to Wear Masks For Years

People in Scotland may have to wear masks in public places for years to come, Nicola Sturgeon has warned – in spite of the fact that masked-up Scotland has a higher number of cases per 100,000 than England. MailOnline has more.

The First Minister insisted that tough curbs dramatically imposed on hospitality venues and large gatherings from Boxing Day had stemmed the spread of Covid, despite official figures showing that Scotland’s virus rate is higher than England’s.

And furious business leaders said Miss Sturgeon’s “gamble” with restrictions must end after they failed to make “any meaningful difference” to infections in Scotland.

Speaking ahead of today’s announcement about extending restrictions beyond next week, Miss Sturgeon said face coverings “might be required in the longer-term to enable us to live with it [Covid] with far fewer protective measures”.

In England, Covid restrictions could start to be lifted this month after Michael Gove said Britain was moving towards a situation where it could “live with” the virus.

Downing Street is examining options to lift Plan B measures in stages if cases remain too high to remove them all in one go. Extending Covid passes, due to expire on January 26th, would require another bruising clash with Tory backbenchers, which No 10 wants to avoid.

But some ministers are pushing for the WFH guidance to be removed first, arguing that it causes the most damage to the economy.

Miss Sturgeon told STV’s Scotland Tonight: “Sometimes when you hear people talk about learning to live with Covid, what seems to be suggested is that one morning we’ll wake up and not have to worry about it any more, and not have to do anything to try to contain and control it.

“That’s not what I mean when I say ‘learning to live with it’. Instead, we will have to ask ourselves what adaptations to pre-pandemic life – face coverings, for example – might be required in the longer-term to enable us to live with it with far fewer protective measures.”

Worth reading in full.

According to the Government’s coronavirus dashboard, the number of cases per 100,000 is currently higher in those parts of the United Kingdom with severe Covid restrictions in place than it is in England, including Scotland.

Stop Press: Nicola Sturgeon has announced that some Covid restrictions in Scotland will be lifted next Monday, including the ban on more than 500 people attending football and rugby matches, and she hoped other restrictions would be lifted the following Monday, pending a review of the data, including limits on attendance at indoor live events, table service in hospitality businesses, and distancing in indoor public spaces. But anyone wanting to access those events will still require a Covid Pass – and merely being double-vaccinated won’t be sufficient if the second jab was more than four months ago. From Monday January 17th only those who’ve had a second dose within four months, had a booster or uploaded the result of a recent lateral flow test will be able to download a Covid Pass. What’s more, she’s thinking about extending those venues that require Covid certification to include pubs, bars and restaurants.

Stop Press 2: Jamie Blackett in the Telegraph says it’s time to disabuse people of the idea that Nicola Sturgeon has had a good Pandemic.

Thousands Gather at Scotland Anti-Lockdown Protest

An ‘unplanned’ anti-lockdown protest in Scotland’s largest city has taken place today that appears to be one of the country’s largest demonstrations since the pandemic began. MailOnline has more.

Thousands of protesters gathered at Glasgow Green at 1pm on Saturday as public anger boiled over at First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s latest Covid curbs.

The activists began the unplanned procession by marching through Argyle Street, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, during what the campaign group called a “Freedom Rally”.

Some of them were pictured carrying placards saying “Do you trust your government with your life?” and “vaccine passports means your body will be owned by the state forever”. 

The protest is believed to have been organised by Scotland Against Lockdown, a group that runs campaigns against mandatory facemasks.

The campaigners are also opposed to the Scottish and U.K. Governments’ Coronavirus Act 2020, social distancing and mandatory vaccines, according to its social media pages. 

Official data showed Covid cases in Wales and Scotland are increasing faster than in England despite the nations’ harsher restrictions.

Confirmed infections are rising more than twice as quickly in Scotland as they are in England, jumping from 6,976 to 14,006 in the former nation in the week up to January 2nd – an increase of more than 100%.

For comparison, cases increased 44% in England to 129,014 during the same period. They increased by more than 52% in Wales to 9,718. 

Worth reading in full.

Scottish Fertility Clinic Bans Unvaccinated Women From Using Services as Italy Announces Mandatory Vaccination for Over-50s

A top Scottish fertility clinic has withdrawn its services for unvaccinated women, leaving many people upset and leading to calls for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to address the fact that it may not be limited to just one clinic. EuroWeekly News has more.

Glasgow Royal Fertility Clinic said that “it has been nationally agreed that fertility treatment for unvaccinated women will be deferred with immediate effect.”

Citing Dr Gregor Smith, Chief Medical Officer for the Scottish Government, the update published just before Christmas said that “pregnant women should now be considered as a clinical risk group and part of priority group six within the vaccination programme”.

According to data published in the Scottish Intensive Care Society Report on October 13th, of 89 Covid positive pregnant women who were admitted to critical care between December 2020 and the end of September 2021; 88 were unvaccinated, one was partially vaccinated, and none were fully vaccinated.

The clinic said that said data, from unknown dates, also showed that “98% of pregnant women in ICU with COVID-19 were unvaccinated” and that “all the women who have died during pregnancy or up to six weeks after birth, 88% of them were unvaccinated.”

This has led the clinic, which is located in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, to withdraw its services to unvaccinated women and the “clinic will review this decision during February 2022 or earlier if appropriate.”

“Older women who have their treatment deferred will have the deferral time added back on to their fertility journey to ensure that they do not lose out on eligibility for treatment due to their age,” the clinic said.

Note that the ICU data above doesn’t take into account the proportion of pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant who were vaccinated at the time.

What happened to liberal societies not coercing experimental medical treatment?

The news comes as Italy announces that Covid vaccination will become mandatory for all over-50s from next month in an effort to tackle surging infections. The Telegraph has more.

Why Have the Scots Been So Compliant?

We’re publishing a guest post today by two Scottish academics, Professor Roger Watson and Dr. Niall McCrae, about why the Scots have proved so willing to comply with the SNP’s draconian Covid restrictions. Their unprotesting acceptance of the cancellation of Hogmanay is particularly mystifying given that the latest data suggests only one Omicron patient has been admitted to intensive care in Scotland.

Hogmanay has always been a special night in the Scottish calendar. But looking forward to ‘the bells’ at a Glasgow bar, dozens of revellers were taken aback by the sudden arrival of a troop of police officers. The Avant Garde bar was known to be relaxed on Covid restrictions, and the police had apparently been tipped off that a couple had taken to the dance floor. Six vans arrived, and the ensuing scenes (later reported by the mainstream media but only after going viral on Twitter) showed that in Sturgeon’s Scotland the priority is not protecting public health but ensuring full compliance with the draconian rules. As in the film Footloose, set in a religiously rigid American town, dancing is considered a danger to public order.

How did Scotland become such an oppressive society? This, we believe, is rooted in two potent forces: first, the engrained sense of subjugation (actual or perceived) by the English; and secondly by a predilection to Calvinist discipline.

A Hogmanay Tale From Central Edinburgh

We’ve been sent a semi-autobiographical, satirical short story by one of our Scottish readers who, for understandable reasons, wishes to remain anonymous. We hope you enjoy it.

It was the night before Hogmanay 2021 and all through the silent Edinburgh streets bored tourists walked past closed pubs, shuttered nightclubs and barely-filled restaurants. Lured by promoters’ tales of “legendary” Scottish hospitality in the alcohol-fuelled, self-styled capital of the New Year party world, they had risked quarantine at an airport hotel with a daily diet of Tunnocks tea cakes in the hope that the spontaneous Princes St kiss with a hairy highland stranger as the bells struck midnight might not turn out to be a snog with another South East Asian tourist under a wee Jimmy wig. Too late, these disappointed visitors, who in a parallel world might have contributed to the needy coffers of the Caledonian economy in fair exchange for “a guid time”, had come to realise that the entire country was under the iron, liberty crushing, control of one woman, Scotland’s very own Old Nic.

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge, favoured residential suburb of precious professionals seeking proximity to the cathedral of lockdown virtue-signalling, Waitrose, the McAllister family returned home from the last of the annual Christmas visits to Ma McAllister’s relatives which Pa McAllister and daughter, Dotty, had for once been unable to avoid as their conveniently essential prior engagements had been cancelled by Old Nic. “Please tell me I don’t need to see any more of these people for another year,” came the cry as they stumbled through their own front door adorned with its tasteful, homemade holly wreath. “That’s definitely it,” Ma assured them, yet at the back of her mind was the niggling doubt that someone had been missed, somebody, or indeed several somebodies, who had come to play such a central part in their lives that it would be shocking if, as the year drew to a close, Ma did not let them know how much, for good or ill, they meant to the McAllisters.

It was then that Ma noticed Pa slipping off up the stairs into the bedroom with that dreamy smile on his face, softly closing the door behind him. Of course, how could she have forgotten…

It had all started about 21 months ago. Alarmist news flashes were warning of an apocalyptic illness sweeping the globe, as journalists salivated that the rerun of the Spanish flu story they had been preparing for (some might say longing for) every time an exotic bird sneezed, could finally keep them all gainfully employed. In Pa’s study it was business as usual. “How do I save a document again?” he was asking for the 156th time. “Click on File, then on Save,” replied Ma without drawing breath as she continued the daily rebalancing of the McAllister’s global equity portfolio whilst making two rounds of french toast. There was silence from Pa. Then: “It says on my phone that Boris is closing the country for three weeks, no one is to move, shops and schools will shut, but you’re allowed out for an hour to exercise or get essential food.” “Don’t be ridiculous,” said Ma, as she recalibrated the chain saw whilst mentally debating the risks and benefits of a small cryptocurrency position. “Only a mad man would do that, and anyway, we don’t live in North Korea.” But for once, Ma was wrong.

Scottish Government Admits That Hundreds of ‘Covid Patients’ Have Been Hospitalised for Other Reasons

Since the arrival of the Omicron variant, the Scottish Government has refused to release any data about how many Covid patients have been admitted to hospital because of the virus, as opposed to those who have been hospitalised primarily due to other ailments, with SNP Health Secretary Humza Yousaf unable to provide any accurate information. Nevertheless, Yousaf still implied that the confirmed total number of Covid hospitalisations includes those who have tested positive for the virus but were admitted to hospital due to another ailment and are being treated for that, not Covid. The revelation has led Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, Chairman of the Scottish Covid Recovery Group, to accuse the SNP of bringing in draconian restrictions which aren’t justified by the facts. The Telegraph has more.

Humza Yousaf was unable to say on Thursday how many patients on wards included in official figures were in hospital primarily because they were suffering from Covid, and how many were admitted for other conditions and only tested positive only after routine testing.

He claimed advice from Gregor Smith, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, was that the “majority” of people recorded as Covid patients were in hospital “due to Covid”, raising the prospect that hundreds of the 810 people classed as virus patients on Thursday were actually admitted for unrelated ailments.

Murdo Fraser, the Covid recovery spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said he was “not convinced” that new curbs, such as the forced closure of nightclubs, the banning of mass events and restrictions on hospitality businesses, were based on sound data.

Data from hospitals in England suggests that around a third of hospital patients officially counted as Covid cases are so-called “incidental” admissions, meaning they may have been admitted for conditions such as broken bones and then tested positive. In London, data suggests the figure is around 50%.

Studies have also shown that the omicron variant, which now makes up around 80% of cases in Scotland, results in far less serious illness than previous strains.

However, the SNP Government has so far refused to release figures showing the proportion of people classed as Covid hospital patients who were admitted primarily because of the virus, since the Omicron variant emerged.

“South of the border the data would seem to suggest that it’s only a minority who are in hospital because of Covid,” Fraser said.

“What’s really concerning is the [Scottish] Government either don’t have the data, which is really worrying as they’re taking decisions without this information, or are not prepared to share it with the public or with parliament.

“The data would be able to inform the public as to whether the choices currently being made by the Scottish Government, which are restricting people’s liberty and having a major impact on businesses, are justifiable.”

He added: “We need to ensure that the decisions that are being made, which are affecting people’s liberty and having a major impact on business, are being underpinned by evidence, and I’m not convinced that’s the case.”

Worth reading in full.

SNP Tells Scots Not to Dodge Covid Restrictions by Celebrating New Year’s Eve in England

John Swinney, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, has called on Scots not to cross the border into England to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Doing so goes against the “spirit” of the Scottish Government’s Covid restrictions, he says. (No, really?!?) BBC News has more.

Scots have been urged not to travel to England for New Year celebrations to get around the more stringent Covid restrictions north of the border.

There is no travel ban currently in place to stop people going to England, where nightclubs are still open.

But Deputy First Minister John Swinney said doing so would go against the “spirit” of Scottish Covid measures.

He said travelling would be “the wrong course of action” due to the “serious situation” with the Omicron variant.

Case numbers in Scotland hit “alarming” record highs over Christmas and Boxing Day, with the faster-spreading strain now accounting for the majority of all infections.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is to update MSPs in a virtual sitting of the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, said she expected the figures to rise even more in the days ahead.

Scots have been encouraged to stay at home as much as possible, and to limit any social gatherings to no more than three households.

Large events such as Edinburgh’s traditional Hogmanay street party have been cancelled, with extra curbs in hospitality settings and nightclubs shut down entirely.

Clubs remain open south of the border, where no new restrictions are being imposed, but Swinney told BBC Breakfast that he would “discourage” anyone from travelling to England to see in the new year.

He said: “People are free to make their own judgments. But what we have got recognise is that Omicron is a serious threat to absolutely everybody within our society and we have all got to take measures to protect ourselves by limiting our social contacts and connections and by complying with the restrictions we have in place.

“I think it is the wrong course of action for people to take because we have a serious situation we have got to manage and we encourage everybody to play their part in addressing that.”

People in England have been urged to be “cautious” while socialising, by taking lateral flow tests and sticking to well-ventilated areas.

Ms Sturgeon is to update MSPs on the latest data and plans when Holyrood is recalled from recess for a virtual sitting at 14:00.

Worth reading in full.