Another day but the message on lockdown remains the same

Nicola Sturgeon was scrupulous in not opening up a political divide on Covid-19 between the Scottish and UK governments.

Another day but the message on lockdown remains the same Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon’s review of lockdown today was an exercise in déjà vu, as once again the First Minister was clear as clear can be: now is not the time to lift the current measures and risk further deaths.

To do so would, in her own words, represent a “potentially catastrophic mistake”.

The next formal (i.e. legally required) review will come in three weeks’ time. For now the message is carry on with the current regime to help save lives and protect the NHS from being overwhelmed as a result of a new spike in infections.

On Sunday at 7pm, Boris Johnson will address the issue of lockdown in England amid speculation of a relaxing of measures which could see a partial return to work.

It is important to stress he hasn’t said anything that would suggest he will announce anything as fundamental as that but that hasn’t stopped the rumour mill.

Yesterday, he told the House of Commons he wanted to make the announcement on Sunday in order that people could adjust their behaviour on Monday.

That has set several hares running. By Sunday evening they may prove to be rather limp if not caught in the trap of continued lockdown. Time will tell.

Today, the First Minister made clear that there has been no discussion with the devolved administrations on recalibrating lockdown in England.

On this issue, Nicola Sturgeon was ultra careful with her language and something of a diplomat’s diplomat in her comments. She was scrupulous in not opening up a political divide on Covid-19 between both governments.

She said if Boris Johnson does make changes on Sunday he has every right to do so and she for one won’t criticise him. She also said that England could be at a different level on the infection curve which might explain the Prime Minister’s desire for flexibility.

For all of her care with words, I cannot believe that Nicola Sturgeon thinks it anything other than unhelpful for the Prime Minister to move materially on lockdown. It risks the possibility of mixed messages even although it is pretty difficult to misunderstand her position on all of this.

The FM also said today “the decisions now are a matter of life and death”.

That is true of her decisions and those of the Prime Minister and for that reason I suspect Boris Johnson is choreagraphing a strategy of baby steps rather than athletic vaulting on this issue of lifting lockdown.

As a consequence I expect Sunday will be more about symbolism than substance – it will be a nod to frustration rather than a wholesale step-change on the current strategy.

As we come out of lockdown, testing will take on an ever greater role in the next phase of managing the pandemic. In that regard, the comments of the former chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns this morning to a Holyrood Committee are worthy of note.

Burns is a public servant who is not only well-liked and respected but even revered. Today he said the whole Scottish population should be tested. He has been critical about the use of testing to date, seeing it as somewhat haphazard.

Ministers insist the use of testing has been appropriate and that capacity in this area will increase.