THE fact that Scotland’s testing figures have fallen well behind the strategy outlined by the First Minister on April 3 of “proportionately” matching those of the UK government is a cause for concern, and the reasons for it certainly merit examination, but it would be hasty to regard it as an indictment of overall policy.

Similarly, the fact the UK government has met and indeed exceeded its target of testing 100,000 people a day by the end of April – something its critics maintained was inconceivable – is an impressive logistical achievement, but it by no means vindicates every aspect of its approach, nor indicates that all is now set fair for a return to “normality”.

Despite the consensus that testing is a necessary component in responding to the pandemic, its provision is not a sufficient condition for lifting restrictions. Professor John Newton, the UK’s National Testing Strategy Coordinator, has argued that widespread testing would not have prevented lockdown being introduced nor allowed it to have been relaxed earlier. Once the disease entered the period of exponential growth, even limitless testing would not have prevented the need for strict physical distancing.

Even if that is so, however, previous lack of diagnostic capability has been an impediment, notably for the safeguarding of key workers, maximising their availability, and the provision of data. If that has been resolved, it is welcome news, but not the whole solution.

Contact tracing, new isolation guidelines and working practices for those allowed back to their jobs and, above all, the flexibility to provide continuous repeat testing for frontline staff are all areas as vital as daily numbers. The “five tests” included NHS critical care capacity, a consistent fall in deaths, and confidence that the R level was falling. There is cautious optimism that we may have reached that point.

The remaining two tests – meeting operational challenges, which includes testing but also tracing and PPE provision, and certainty that lifting restrictions will not encourage a second peak (R going back above one) – may not yet be satisfied.

Businesses are crying out to get back to work, parents to know when schools may go back, and families anxious for at least some indication of when they may be reunited. There is urgency and anxiety in those questions, from those who face economic hardship, and those who have suffered dreadful emotional losses and bereavement. Both the Scottish and Westminster governments have stated their intention of being straight with the public, but the fact is that messages have not been clear enough – think, for example, of the confusion over masks for the public, or what has to be seen, with hindsight, as an inadequate level of attention for care homes and key workers dealing with the housebound.

We appreciate that policy responses to the science are not fixed, but continually refined as knowledge improves. It’s clear, too, that lifting all restrictions is not possible yet, and that it would be counterproductive to endanger the containment that has been managed. But the public deserves at least solid criteria for what happens next, and those have not been spelled out consistently or forthrightly.

We do not yet know what tracing measures will be applied – though an app is said to be in development – nor, on past form, is there likely to be confidence in every quarter that the true casualty numbers and levels of infection are known even now, or that a robust and adequate supply of PPE is guaranteed.

None of this is to diminish the achievements of the governments, public sector workers and NHS staff, or the enormous challenges that are being met. But the time for vague aspirations is over. If the public does not get solid assurances, there is a danger that observance of lockdown – tolerantly endured thus far by almost everyone – will begin to drift. If we genuinely are on track for recovery, we deserve to be told where that track leads, and the timetable it will follow.