When the Coronavirus Health Protection Regulations were introduced by the UK’s governments on March 26 (two days later, in Northern Ireland), they included the provision that they be reviewed after 21 days, a deadline now approaching.

In current conditions, it is a near certainty that there will be no relaxation of the restrictions. Nonetheless, this requirement to take stock – and the legislation’s further stipulation that it expires after six months – was more than an essential safeguard against curtailments on normal liberties, unprecedented in peacetime. It was also an acknowledgement of the crucial role of scrutiny even – indeed, especially – when awarding exceptional powers to our authorities.

While there is still near-universal acceptance of the need for such measures and, hearteningly, compliance with them from all but a very small and selfishly reckless minority, vigilance remains crucial. This is not just about questions of individual misjudgments or breaches, instances of police overreach, or even more substantial points, such as social or economic sustainability of policy.

It is about the literally vital issue of whether the governments’ approaches (which, with minor differences, have largely been unified), to use the continual mantra, “protect the NHS and save lives”. The role of trusted media is continually to assess evidence, both from the UK and from countries that have adopted different tactics, to report the claims of critics and advocates of competing approaches neutrally, with due weight to their credibility, and to improve understanding of the facts – and thereby establish whether the strategy is working.

This is not carping or undermining. Still less is it the lunacies prevalent on social media, weaponised for partisan political advantage or to peddle absurd anti-scientific theories about 5G masts, or engineered genocide by shadowy conspiracies. In sharp contrast with such financially and politically unaccountable platforms, established broadcasters and newspapers have the expertise, and the duty, to examine the effectiveness of public policy.

There has been, from those quarters, acknowledgment of the immense difficulties the authorities face, and little suggestion that their response has been anything other than well-intentioned. But it is highly unlikely that no mistakes have been made. If, as some recent modelling suggests, the UK approach were to show signs of leading to worse outcomes than other countries, it is essential to establish how and why, and change course accordingly.

That scenario is still far from certain, which is why dispassionate analysis is critical – in the neutral sense of that word. It is not enough for government to insist that it is following scientific advice – no one doubts that, but nor is the scientific advice uniform, constant, or without differing interpretations.

If there is credible evidence that initial responses were too slow, or relaxed, and there needs to be alteration to distancing rules or a rapid escalation of testing, getting to the truth about such points is not criticism for its own sake, but literally a matter of life and death.

Daily government briefings have been useful in keeping the public informed and supportive; but they must involve raising such questions. The First Minister has emerged well from this period; she seems capable, compassionate and clear-headed. However, the lack of follow-up questions at Scottish briefings (unlike those in England) is a marked deficiency, as the confusing Calderwood debacle, or the botched suggestion of abolishing trial by jury, showed.

Establishing facts, and facing them, is our first priority; The Herald and its sister titles remain committed to that goal, and are a crucial component in ensuring this crisis is tackled effectively.

We are doing so in the face of enormous challenges; a collapse, for obvious reasons, in physical sales, huge disruption in distribution, the disappearance of advertising revenue and strains on staffing. We are grateful for our readers’ continued support, but will need similar assistance from the Scottish and UK governments. This emergency needs honesty, accountability, scrutiny of policy and respect for the facts more than ever; it is our role to ensure their delivery, because if we cannot, no one else will.