IN THE five days since Scotland and the rest of the UK effectively went into lockdown, it is heartening to see the ways in which the vast majority of the population has responded, not merely with compliance and resilience, but with a community spirit and a great many acts of personal service and sacrifice.

The Government appeal for volunteers to support the NHS, by driving patients, delivering medicines and offering help to vulnerable groups, exceeded its target of 250,000 within 24 hours; by yesterday morning, the total was well over half a million. Spontaneous local groups have sprung up on social media to check in on the elderly; a campaign to show public appreciation of frontline staff brought enormous numbers to their doorsteps or windows on Thursday night to applaud key workers.

Though nominally directed at NHS staff, it also led to an appreciation of others proving essential services during this unprecedented crisis. The other emergency services, refuse collectors, bus and train drivers, those conducting infrastructure maintenance and manning helplines also deserve our congratulations and gratitude, as do civil servants and politicians (most of whom have commendably suspended partisan concerns) working tirelessly to get us through this.

Nor are these vital roles confined to the public sector; thanks are due to shop, factory and distribution workers providing a continued supply of necessities, and to those ensuring services, from water to telecoms, are delivered reliably at a time when they are under enormous strain.

The Government’s actions are supported by a remarkable 93 per cent of the public, and the Prime Minister’s approval ratings have soared; it is almost certain that Nicola Sturgeon’s measured response to this crisis will have the same sort of backing.

It is worth remembering, however, that we are at an early stage of isolation and of being able to assess whether containment, or at least a flattening of the curve of the disease’s progression, is being achieved. And although many people have been working flat out, decisive and rapid action will still be needed for some time to come.

It may be reasonable for the government, through its scientific and medical advisors, to have waited for the optimal moment to conduct more widespread tests; only with hindsight will we be able to judge. Certainly, the production difficulties created by a sudden global demand are a factor; an even more compelling one is the necessity to ensure that tests are effective. False positives and negatives are worse than no testing at all.

Clearing the millions of tests apparently lined up is of the utmost urgency; we have a right to expect that a programme will be in action within days at the most. And, as the Chief Medical Officer of England said earlier this week, it is crucial that NHS frontline staff, who are not only the most important people in treating victims, but the group most exposed to risk, should be the immediate priority, with a wider group of key workers following.

Tests for the general public, which were applied in the very early stages, are now less urgent – especially while people follow the instructions to remain at home. Programmes that assess whether others have had the virus and recovered, or shown no symptoms, will be useful later in analysing the epidemiology of Covid-19, but are not now the primary concern.

While it may be understandable that the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister should have been tested – not least in showing that this virus is no respecter of persons, and could affect any and all of us – public sentiment could easily shift without immediate action for those in the frontline, particularly if quarantine fatigue sets in or the number of deaths rise steeply, as remains quite likely.

That sentiment is overwhelmingly in favour of protecting doctors, nurses and their support workers as soon as humanly possible. We cannot afford to lose those well enough to work, increase the danger caused by the infected continuing to work, or expose these genuinely heroic figures to additional risk.