Testing times as Sturgeon defends Covid tracing system

First Minister faces questions over the management of Scotland's Test and Protect system.

Testing times as Sturgeon defends Covid tracing system Getty Images

In the week when news of a 90% effective vaccine allowed some tentative excitement about life beyond lockdown, the First Minister dealt with the management of the here and now.

Specifically the Scottish Government’s Test and Protect system was centre stage at question time on Thursday as opposition leaders described a system at odds with ministerial claims.

The Scottish Labour Leader Richard Leonard said that on no fewer than ten occasions Nicola Sturgeon described the test and protect as “excellent”.

Leonard wanted to know why she was so bullish when between August and October the system had fallen short of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) standards for contacting those with a positive diagnosis.

Specifically, he alleged 3500 people who had tested positive had not been contacted at all, 400 in the last week alone. An additional 9252 people who had come into contact with an infected person had not been reached, he said.

The FM said she was about to say it for an 11th time, the system was working well.

She said the numbers quoted by the Labour leader related to individuals who had been contacted but had not answered their phones or responded to e-mails or texts.

Sturgeon also insisted that Scotland’s test and protect system was running ahead of WHO standards with 95.8% of those testing positive being contacted within 72 hours.

Earlier, Ruth Davidson for the Scottish Tories said the government needed to improve transparency around the system, accusing the health secretary of adopting a strategy of “hostile defensiveness”.

She wanted to know why the messaging was not consistent and said explanations given by spokespeople did not tally with those of Jeane Freeman about the nature of the contact with people under the system.

The First Minister conceded that a ‘coding error’ had resulted in incorrect figures on the numbers contacted by test and protect in a 24-hour period. The error has since been corrected.

There was a lot of trading statistics today but the sobering ones as always came in the report to MSPs before the opposition asked their questions. Another 1212 have tested positive for Covid in Scotland and there have been another 45 deaths, a day after the UK reached the grim milestone of over 50,000 who have lost their lives.

Although the R number might be slightly below one, infection levels in some areas in the central belt have stabilised at a high level. It is yet another nudge in the direction of restrictions lasting longer or worse still ushering the prospect of an even tighter lockdown.

Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Greens raised concerns about the number of people buying into conspiracy theories around Covid, He linked this to the promotion of the notion of fake news trumped by an about to be ex-occupant of the White House. He said that many people might not accept a vaccine, such is the misinformation that passes as informed comment.

Sturgeon said that there is a “real risk” that people’s view of a vaccine could be clouded by misinformation and urged “if you are in one of the eligible groups come forward” when a vaccine is rolled out to the general population.

Harvie’s question was a clever way of allowing him to have a go at the US President. I did think at one point, this is not within the First Minister’s area of responsibility. On cue and in order to keep his question within the rules he wanted to know if allegations of financial misreporting from the Trump Organisation should lead her to slap an Unexplained Wealth Order on the President, who has golf courses in Scotland.

My views on Donald Trump are well known, said the FM, adding that she and Harvie were probably in agreement, As to the Unexplained Wealth Order, that was not one for her but for the Lord Advocate.

Needless to say I am not holding my breath that the Crown Office is about to declare war on the business dealings of the Trump empire. The President, I dare say, is more concerned by the numbers in disputed states than in disputed accounts.