Action needed to stop Scotland going over Covid cliff edge, says doctor

The Government has been urged to 'follow the science' amid rising coronavirus cases.

Covid committee told Scottish Government must take action to stop country going over ‘cliff edge’ iStock
Dr Sally Witcher said there is an 'important role' for the Scottish Government on Covid-19 messaging.

Leadership must be shown by the Scottish Government amid fears over a rise in Covid cases, MSPs have heard.

Dr Sally Witcher, an independent consultant on disability equality, urged ministers to “follow the science”, as she stressed the importance of getting health messaging right.

She insisted that Covid measures protect people’s freedoms, rather than restricting them.

Dr Witcher was giving evidence to the Covid-19 Recovery Committee at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday.

“People are understandably very confused about this. The messaging is mixed,” she said.

“On the one hand, we’ve got a lot of experts arguing that in fact the entire population should be offered a booster.

“That long-Covid is rising, that this is a new variant, it’s highly transmissible, it looks like it may settle in the lungs which could be more serious.

“Herd immunity is probably a myth, and so a lot of warnings.

“Then we have people going, ‘oh, it’s mild, it’s mild, compared to all the others it’s not a problem’.”

The disability campaigner asked that coronavirus measures are referred as “protections”.

She said: “Can I issue a general plea – can we stop calling them restrictions please?

“These are not restrictions, they’re protections. They protect people’s freedom, they don’t restrict it.

“And that goes not just for people at high-clinical risk, it goes for the population in general.”

Dr Witcher said that there are a “lot of worried people” out there about the virus.

“What I would ask is for the Scottish Government to exercise some Covid sense here, please.

“And respond, follow the science about where we are and exercise some leadership here around not causing us to spin over the edge of a cliff because we haven’t negotiated that change of tack with the guile that we need to.”

She added: “Basically, if we don’t get the messaging right now, if the Scottish Government doesn’t get the policy right, then we are looking at a very serious situation.

“And if you think people are disengaging and distrustful, perhaps it is because they are trying to make sense of those extremely mixed messages.

“So, I do think there’s a really important role here for the Scottish Government.

“I still believe that the Scottish Government wants to do the right thing, wants to build back better.”

Professor Jill Pell, director of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing a the University of Glasgow, also gave evidence at the committee.

She told MSPs that communication from the Scottish Government during the pandemic had been “honest”, with high public trust.

She outlined the importance for politicians to be open and honest with people, whilst not pretending to know more than they do.

“The public trust in Scotland has been much, much higher through the whole pandemic than it has in some other countries,” she said.

“Part of that’s been because communication coming from the Scottish Government has been honest.

“I think it’s been clearly explained to them what we know and what we don’t know and what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

“And I think it’s when politicians and policy-makers try to pretend they know more than they do that people see completely through that and stop trusting you.

“So, I think you should be open and honest with people.

“I mean, not to the extent of scaremongering, but I think you gain much more trust and respect and more importantly, much more compliance.

“People are much more likely to do what you are asking them to do if they think you’re being honest with them in the communication and justifying why you’re asking them to take certain actions.

“And the evidence bears that out.”

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