As this newspaper pointed out last week, on the announcement of the new tiered system by the First Minister, it is welcome where it offers increased clarity and flexibility, but its success will depend on the assurances that there will be greater consultation with stakeholders, particularly business.

It will also depend upon the wider public taking the new rules seriously, and complying with them – alarming figures from countries on the Continent where that did not happen show how quickly rises become uncontrollable. Cases of regulations being blatantly disregarded – parties and the like – deserve to be met with immediate and forceful penalties.

But such a regimen will be workable only if the message from government is unequivocal, if it is vigilant about what restrictions are essential, and applies them only where they are needed. An expansion of tiers, and the minutiae of the rules for each, offers the danger of muddle, even if it has the benefit of localism and avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach.

The fiasco over what counts as a café, like the Welsh government’s muddle over who determines what retail goods are “essential”, show that vague appeals to “common sense” are a recipe for confusion. By the same token, the blame for most heavy-handed policing lies with a failure by ministers to define and communicate the limits of the law, rules for guidance or advice, and the extent of enforcement powers.

One area where the need for clarity is greatest is firm information on the criteria for imposing each tier’s restrictions and – even more crucial – emerging from them. Travel advice, in particular, will have a profound impact on retail businesses, no matter the level of restriction they find themselves under. Rural areas and the islands also deserve a roadmap indicating how swiftly they can be moved into Tier 0.

The firms and communities affected by these measures need not only to get a clear indication of them from ministers, but to have a strong voice in their construction. The chief hope for public health, for general well-being, to minimise economic damage and to safeguard jobs and businesses is to secure wide agreement on effective, proportionate measures. If, as we hope, there is any chance of escaping the worst restrictions by Christmas, they need to be clearly defined, introduced, strictly observed and – every bit as important – relaxed and removed as quickly as possible.

Care home questions

Public Health Scotland’s report into the cavalier and disastrous policy of discharging hospital patients into care homes in the early weeks of the pandemic does little to answer the questions that must haunt families who lost loved ones, and their suspicions that some of those deaths were avoidable.

The conclusion that an influx of such patients had no “statistical significance” is not, as the First Minister appeared to claim, an exoneration of that approach; it is a technical result of the size of the study. It is not a declaration that there was no real impact – a scarcely credible stance – and the judgment that care home size gives the strongest level of correlation for risk, though it merits further investigation, does not change some basic facts.

Those are that in March and April almost 3,000 patients were discharged from hospital into environments housing the very people most vulnerable to the virus without any testing; even more disgracefully, dozens of patients known to be positive were packed off to care homes. That even after April 21, when new measures were adopted, 45 positive cases were sent to care homes. That half of Scotland’s Covid-related deaths – some 2,000 people – have been in care homes, easily the worst of the home nations (the figures for England and Wales over the period were nearer 30 per cent).

These all indicate that serious errors were made. They must be front and centre in the promised public inquiry, and we should be urgently investigating all aspects of care for the elderly to prevent any recurrence.