Covid Scotland: SNP need to be open about Omicron impact if they want to bring us with them – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

Two years and six days ago, a hospital in Wuhan China first alerted the World Health Organisation to something medics there described as “animal pneumonia”, a novel coronavirus that would go on to kill 5.5 million people and bring every country in the world to a standstill.

Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 4:55 am
Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf need to be more open about the effects of the Omicron Covid variant (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell-Pool/Getty Images)

From the start, my party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, offered support to the government for any public health measure that the advance of the virus and the scientists battling it dictated.

In the early days, the Scottish government was uncharacteristically open with the data and scientific advice that it received.

We were told in no uncertain terms that we needed, above all things, to protect hospital capacity. That schools would close and social interaction would cease. There were detailed and terrifying graphs showing the nightmare that would befall our intensive care units if we did not.

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In this current phase, as Omicron sweeps through Scotland, that earlier, more transparent approach seems to be drying up. Details around hospital capacity seem difficult for the government to get their hands on and, after seven weeks of Omicron, they still struggle to tell us who is in hospital *with* the new variant (but is in for another reason eg appendicitis) or *because* of Omicron severity.

That’s crucial and understanding that properly could allow us to release some of the restrictions that are crippling the hospitality and events sector right now.

As parliament is recalled into emergency session this week, the government needs to start treating opposition parties with inclusivity again and be clear about what’s actually going on in our hospitals if they want to bring us with them.

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Now I understood and fully supported the view that with the emergence of the Omicron variant in November and in the absence of hard information, the government had to act with caution.

Yet unlike the beginning of the pandemic, the measures adopted by the SNP were inconsistent and confusing. Nativity plays were off, but 50,000-capacity cup finals were on. People could go to restaurants and bars in the company of hundreds of strangers, but only meet with two other households at home. Against the backdrop of the UK government’s Christmas party controversy, it felt like public confidence in the measures was waning severely.

We’re now seeing something in the order of 20,000 new cases a day, that’s eyewatering and had Omicron been as severe as the original strains of Covid, it would be overwhelming our ICUs and causing hundreds of deaths every single day.

It isn’t and thank goodness for that. Indeed, a newspaper report on Monday suggested Omicron had only seen 100 Scots hospitalised and only one put under intensive care since its arrival. If true, that feels like significant information, but as an opposition leader and my party’s health spokesperson, I shouldn’t be left to read about that in the press, the government should get us round the table like it used to.

The money offered to Scottish hospitality to make up for lost business will run out this week and many will start taking irreversible, job-shedding decisions. If the stats around Omicron severity suggest we can relax some of those restrictions, now is the time for the SNP to reveal that information to Parliament.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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