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Scotland, UK and Covid-19: The Unknown Looms

Published: 16 July 2020
Author: Richard Parry

Richard Parry provides an update on policy relating to coronavirus in Scotland and the UK, reviewing how Nicola Sturgeon is coming from a position of political and epidemiological strength. 

The mandatory wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces in Scotland came into effect on 10th of July, giving eight days’ notice of the measure taking effect. The point was not just about retail, but a way of getting everyone in Scotland into the face mask culture evident in southern Europe and east Asia. Boris Johnson has now indicated that England may have to follow suit, making Matt Hancock’s comment that devolved Covid policy was an emulation of England’s look hollow.

Infection numbers in Scotland and both Irish jurisdictions have become low, and even in England daily death numbers fell enough to neutralise the impact of the pandemic in overall mortality statistics. The new phenomenon, from Miami to Melbourne, seems to be asymptomatic spread in a younger demographic who do not wish to return to the initial social and economic restrictions of lockdown. Exactly what to do about this chronic issue is a problem for public policy making worldwide.

After weeks of debate about distancing, the guidance on Scotland's complete reopening of the hospitality industry on 15 July expresses a permissive and consensual approach based on self-policing by the industry. The Scottish Government's expert advice on distancing, published on 2 July, was a sobering reminder that one metre distancing is not far off normal patterns of leaning in and speaking to others.  The UK strategy of getting experts to agree that one metre with mitigation was 'broadly equivalent' to two metres seemed a clever way to magic two metres into one but it neglected the need for mitigation whatever the distance.

Maintaining the present impressive numbers will be very difficult, but policy may stabilise around prompt testing and the commercial risk of being shut down. A health drama will give way to a grimmer economic reckoning. Countries will be lucky to avoid a triple double-digit percentage hit in 2020 on unemployment rates, public sector deficits and GDP contraction. Government debt will get financed incredibly cheaply as other asset classes look even more risky, but the poor performers in both health and economic terms will stand out. If England remains one of these, its neighbours will suffer however adept their own policies may be.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

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