CONTEMPLATE this hideous plague anew and consider the questions which are presently exercising the citizenry.

Will the Prime Minister be able to liberate England from all constraints on the scheduled date of June 21? Will Scotland follow suit?

Will cruise ships be able to berth in Greenock? Will others be able to fly to the sun, sans quarantine?

Will the Euro Fanzone in Glasgow be a triumph of modest mustering? Or will Scotland score, causing an impromptu and unauthorised group hug?

And one more question. One that seems to have got just a little lost. How, precisely, are we going to defeat coronavirus?

But first those salient asides. It is looking increasingly unlikely that “freedom day” in England will be June 21, given the prevalence of the disease.

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To be fair to Boris Johnson, he repeatedly stressed that this date was dependent upon progress in tackling the virus. However, it is in his nature to sound giddily upbeat, even when setting out a conditional scenario.

In Scotland, the prognosis is that each council area can move to Level 0 on June 28, a week later than in England. But, somehow, Nicola Sturgeon contrived to sound even more conditional than the PM. The tone was one of caution.

The thwarted cruise ship? It must be incredibly frustrating, particularly for those passengers who had hoped to join at Greenock. However, a broader perspective counsels that such anomalies will continue to emerge, for as long as the virus is potent.

Broadly, Scotland wanted to clamp down more tightly upon international travel, following to some extent the model of Australia and New Zealand. However, GB geography makes that impractical. Curb flights to Edinburgh and folk will arrive via Manchester or Gatwick.

And the Fanzone? I believe it to be an attempt at a compromise. Conceding some degree of constrained socialisation during an event which matters to Scotland. It being rather a long time since we participated in an international football tournament.

It has been suggested to me that there was a concern that the authorities would “lose the dressing room” in terms of public tolerance if they did not give some ground.

In addition, the former Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said on my Herald podcast that a successful Fanzone could be the gateway to holding other events in Scotland.


However, it has proved thus far to be a public relations calamity. That is because of relativism, the curse of the meticulous politician.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard folk say on the wireless or the telly: “If they can allow thousands to gather for football, why can’t they…….”. At which point, insert particular demand of said individual or pressure group.

They have a point. Such anomalies are, quite simply, unfair. The First Minister virtually conceded as much when answering questions at Holyrood this week. However, her counter argument is also pertinent. Perfection is impossible while we face this viral blight.

Our leaders are pulled in competing directions. Science says: make the constraints as tight and enduring as possible, until vaccination or natural immunity kicks in.

But look at those salient questions. Folk are fed up. Some find the constraints – the face masks, the hand gel – tedious and exasperating. Others are frankly angry. Just when will it end?

A smart, scientific answer will not do in such circumstances. Elected politicians need to work with the people. They need support for their programmes, or, at minimum, acquiescence.

Plus, the virus changes. It mutates, with infuriating dexterity. In the very earliest days, the UK Government’s advisers appeared to be relying, to some extent, upon what was then called “herd immunity”. Basically, building up resistance through naturally occurring low-risk infection.

It was never the case that this advice relied upon sacrificing the vulnerable. There were other strategies, other protections, in place. But it felt callous and the very phrase “herd immunity” sounded too clinical, too zoological.

So that phrase and that approach was jettisoned. However, it is still the case that we will require what is now called “population level immunity” to bolster the crucial, core vaccination programme.

Look at the latest statistics on the level of antibodies in the population. At around 73 per cent, Scotland has the lowest in the UK. It is said that is because fewer Scots, relatively, have developed the disease and thus natural immunity.

Good news? Not really. It means the vaccine has extra work to do in Scotland, while the Delta variant means that it is more crucial than ever to get the second jab.

So we have to strive again and again to get people vaccinated. Remember too that this is a global pandemic. Fundamental human kindness should tell us to share vaccines with the Third World – and provide the infrastructure to ensure the protection reaches people. If we lack that emotion, then perhaps enlightened self-interest will work.

At the same time, we must contain the spread of infections here until more people are fully vaccinated, with two jabs. The pressure to open up is entirely understandable, whether it is driven by individual frustration or by commercial interests.

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Lockdown could not continue indefinitely. The damage to the economy was too severe. Further, the social impact risked a popular backlash, which could have undermined the consent upon which these limitations are ultimately founded.

However, we may have to get used to continuing constraint, in some form, in the face of an endemic challenge from the virus. That may mean routinely using face coverings in certain circumstances or altering our physical environment, for example through enhanced ventilation to counter this airborne disease.

We may well require further vaccination later this year, and in succeeding years. Travel may still face some degree of limitation, perhaps through aviation corridors.

Longer term? We may get used to these persistent constraints. Or the virus may weary of its malign work. It is not out to get us, it is merely driven to survive by spreading. A future variant may still spread but lose its vicious potency.

For now, let us try to help each other with patient support. And the footy? Come away, Scotland!

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.