THERE are still aspects of coronavirus policy on which there is disagreement – where, if anything, positions on the efficacy of lockdown, school closures, face coverings and testing have become simultaneously more polarised and entrenched. Yet even with six months experience, and comparison with differing approaches taken internationally, it is too soon to make definitive judgments on whether any were fundamentally misguided, as opposed to poorly implemented.

There is, however, at least one obvious example of failure: that of care homes. The judgment that the errors made there have been the greatest scandal in the Scottish Government’s handling of the crisis is not premature or even contentious. Care home deaths have outstripped those in hospitals; there were many amber and red warnings of staff shortages; more than 1,300 healthy patients were moved from hospitals into homes where Covid was rife, while the Government issued guidance that existing residents who were ill should not be transferred to hospitals.

We acknowledge that ministers, public health officials and front-line care workers faced unprecedented and difficult challenges, and do not doubt that their actions were well-intentioned, their efforts unceasing and their personal sacrifices considerable.

That measures designed to protect the NHS, the most vulnerable and the wider population should have so signally failed, however, remains a tragedy. We can only hope that lessons have been learned and that such mistakes will not be repeated.

That is not, however, the limit of the action that the Government should take on care homes. There has been an incalculable cost for residents and their families beyond even the toll in lives. As the campaign group Care Homes Relatives Scotland correctly points out, many residents have been “basically imprisoned since March”, with restrictions preventing visits unless the home has been Covid-free throughout the pandemic and staff and residents free of symptoms for the past 28 days. The recent “relaxation”, allowing one designated visitor indoors, has not been widely adopted, even though, in the seven days up to September 6, there was not a single positive case in any Scottish care home.

After the dismal earlier experience and with case numbers in the wider population rising, public health officials naturally want to err on the side of caution. But the solution cannot be to lock old folk away from any contact with their families during their final years. It is not too much to say that the damage caused by the current arrangements amounts to cruelty.

The vulnerability of care home residents is not merely to the virus; these measures have a profound impact on their well-being and mental health – especially for those whose conditions make it hard for them to understand them – as well as other, non-Covid, physical needs. It is also an intolerable burden for families, many of them already coping with loss and hardship, to be unable to see their loved ones.

The rest of society often has an uneasy sense that care homes are something we prefer not to consider – too many discussions about and representations of them suggest they are actually, guiltily, about forgetting older people. That, as most of those with experience know, does a grave disservice to their invaluable work, ignores how well most are managed, and maligns the incredible dedication of their staff. And most of us will have such experience at some point.

It is precisely because they do essential work so well that we owe them more support. It is why the very rare occasions of failure and abuse should receive even more vigorous condemnation. And it is why public policy should not create circumstances for such failures to arise, let alone compound the challenges residents, families and staff face. With safeguards, there is little justification for excessive restrictions on visits. Those who have already been through so much, and so let down, should now be the Scottish Government’s priority.