Scotland is shrouded in silence. A lonely Edinburgh castle towers above the desolate streets of the capital, devoid of life for the first time in its history. Only the birdsong of Princes Street Gardens can be heard, more boisterous and beautiful than ever as the cherry begins to blossom. As Spring dawns on the world, nature is reclaiming global metropolises. Scotland is no different. Coronavirus has united us all in that at least.
What is a win for Mother Nature is however a huge loss for the Scottish economy. How big a loss? Billions. In 2018 alone, tourists spent around £10.6 billion in Scotland. Then there is the annual £300 million normally generated from the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe which takes over the city during the summer months. In recent years Edinburgh has turned into a Scottish Disneyland attracting tourists from all over, seduced by the myths and legends of this foggy land of kilts, whisky and ‘Braveheart’. But with the country now closed for business, the only hope will be that domestic tourism takes off once restrictions are lifted. One can only hope, but the outlook is not good.
On a positive note, the Scottish government has shown effective leadership when it comes to handling the pandemic. Despite the scandal of the Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood – who was forced to resign after breaching the very lockdown rules she was preaching – no criticism can really be made of how First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has handled the crisis. Giving clear, concise press briefings from the outset, she has demonstrated that Scotland has prepared for this crisis, and is managing it.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that the media in Scotland is dominated by London-based mainstream news outlets, not all Scots will be aware of the different policies adopted in Scotland to handle the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, right from the very beginning, Nicola Sturgeon announced that patients exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 should attend separate clinics from the doctor’s surgery, so-called ‘coronavirus assessment centres’. 50 such centres were rapidly set up across Scotland in just the space of a couple of weeks. Such a measure helps to prevent unnecessary spread of the virus, by isolating those individuals suspected of harbouring the disease. It’s not clear why a similar initiative has not been started in England.
Another basic procedure which is being implemented now in Scotland, and yet still not being done south of the border, is the testing of elderly patients in hospitals for Covid-19 before they are transferred to care homes. This rather obvious method of controlling the spread of the virus would have no doubt resulted in a much lower death rate; to date 33% of all deaths in Scotland to Covid-19 have taken place in care homes, and more often than not the virus was introduced to the home from a patient that had been in hospital. There is growing pressure on the Westminster government to mirror this testing in England.
Hospitals at the moment are deadly places. Even the advice given to coronavirus patients who have been admitted is – get home as soon as you can to recover. It’s hardly surprising Prime Minister Boris Johnson was whisked off to recuperate at home after only 3 days in intensive care. The risk of contracting other infections and complications whilst recovering from coronavirus is just too high. And medical staff are of course tragically succumbing to the disease. 69 NHS staff have passed away to Covid-19 in the UK to date.
What continues to be a concern for all is the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): face masks, overalls and eye protection that plays such a vital role in protecting medical personnel. There are chronic shortages in England, with the government advising NHS staff they should use disposable equipment more than once as there is not enough to go around. However in Scotland the situation is not so grave. The National Health Service in Scotland north of the border is separate to that in England, and its budget is controlled by the Scottish government, not Westminster. Unlike the NHS in England, the Scottish government has placed an emphasis on funding the health service for years now, which has stood it in good stead for a crisis such as this.
So when it comes to an issue such as PPE, the Scottish government has assured people that it has enough supplies, with a further 10 million masks having arrived from China last week. According to reports, 50 million pieces of PPE have been delivered to hospitals in the last 7 weeks, and GPs were given 8 weeks’ supply at the end of March. Unfortunately Scotland has had to compete with England however for securing further deliveries of PPE. A scandal unfolded in recent weeks as it was reported that international suppliers were told that they could not supply to Scotland, only to England. Medical professionals in Scotland even reportedly received goods which had been marked for ‘NHS England only’. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government would be investigating the reports, and if true they were ‘completely unacceptable’.
Incidents such as this will only fuel Scottish nationalism further. If, at the beginning of the pandemic, the independence debate was shelved, it is now back on the table again as the UK government faces increased criticism for its handling of the crisis. Questions as to why Boris Johnson missed essential meetings on coronavirus; why supposedly little preparation was done in the weeks after world leaders were told that this would be a serious pandemic; why the health service is struggling to cope in the world’s fifth largest economy. Comparisons are being made with Germany, which has more cases than Britain, but a fraction of the deaths: 5334 compared to the UK’s shocking 18,100.
Coronavirus is the ultimate leadership test. Nicola Sturgeon has already warned this week that Scotland will not necessarily follow Boris Johnson’s path out of lockdown. Despite the initial unity shown by Scotland in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, divisions are beginning to show. Like it or not, coronavirus will be politicised, and if Sturgeon manages to steer Scotland successfully out of the current crisis, it will be remembered, and when it comes to the independence debate, it will only support the nationalist cause.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.