By Bill Heaney
Did First Minister Nicola Sturgeon receive a written report from her chief officials warning of the impending coronavirus pandemic and the impact it would have on Scotland?
And if not, why not?
Two senior journalists asked this question at the FM’s daily briefing for press and public in Edinburgh.
Ms Sturgeon refused to answer on the grounds that she could not remember off-hand and that she would make a statement later when she had the full information.
It appears that the same question had been the subject of a Freedom of Information request.
These requests and the way they are handled have been the subject of controversy since it was decided they would take longer to answer than they do at present.
This was decided in spite of the fact that journalists and members of the public have voiced the opinion that it already takes an unacceptably long time to answer them.
And the government was delaying giving answers in order to take the heat out revelations that might cause them embarrassment.
The briefing was a relatively calm affair with Ms Sturgeon giving advice and taking questions in her stride.
It was clear – in the short term at least – that she will not be moving towards introducing legislation to bolster the lockdown guidelines already in place.
This follows the widespread flouting of them in the weekend sunshine by people driving further than the recommended five miles to visit relatives and groups of more than eight people gathering on beaches, parks and back gardens for picnics and barbecues.
She re-emphasised the advice given at the first stirring of the pandemic which was, in the vernacular, basically:
Dae as yer telt
Stey in the hoose
Dinnae gang oot
Unless it’s for messages or medicines.
The FM reminded people that if they are the person doing the messages or collecting the medicine, they should use a face mask (any face covering) in the shops.
She urged people going to shops, on public transport or enclosed spaces to wear a face covering to help protect others from possible coronavirus infection.
James Matthews, of Sky News, was the reporter who asked if the Scottish government would publish the advice it received on dangers of Covid ahead of lockdown?
He referred to a freedom of information request for a copy of the written briefings the first minister received from clinical experts on Scotland’s preparation and planning for Covid-19 between 24 January and 9 March.
Matthews said the answer that came back was that there was “nothing in writing” and wondered why that was.
The FM said she did not know of the specific FOI, but promised a more detailed answer later, although she did admit she got a lot of direct briefings from the chief medical officer and from others across the Scottish government.
She says she began chairing the Scottish resilience committee around 28-29 January and the Scottish government was focused on the problem (coronavirus).
Gordon Chree, from STV, then asked what impact the first minister thought the postponement of NHS operations has had on those patients and on the wider health of Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon replied that she recognised all along that it would have a negative impact but hoped people would appreciate the need to balance different risks on hospitals and individuals from Covid-19.
These were “the most difficult judgements she had ever had to make.”
Dr Gregor Smith, the interim chief medical officer, expressed sympathy for people who had lost their place in the queue for operations and consultations but claimed that not taking such an action would have been “reckless” because of the increased risk from catching the virus.
The FM again emphasised the importance of people sticking to the safety guidelines – “If your life feels like it is going back to normal, you must think about whether you are following closely enough all of the public health guidance.”
She stressed the key restrictions still in place under the easing of lockdown, and listed them once again.
The FM said she had no regrets about relaxing them, but told BBC Scotland’s Reevel Alderson she would not hesitate to legislate against non-compliance of social distancing rules.
He asked if legislation would be enforceable considering some concerns voiced by the Scottish Police Federation.
The FM said she always knew that coming out of lockdown would be tricky but did not regret relaxing the rules – “We can’t do it on our own. We depend on everyone in the country helping us to deliver the progress and continue the progress we have made.”
She added that the Test and Protect system’s success depends on everyone with symptoms coming forward and getting tested.
If you have symptoms, “do not delay”, do not wait to see if you feel better. Get a test immediately through NHS inform.scot or phone NHS 24 on 0800 028 2816.
The FM said; “Our individual decisions right now affect the well-being of our families, our communities, indeed they affect the well-being of the entire country.”
Then the FM challenged calls for one-metre social distancing and says ‘strong advice’ is to stick to two metres.
She added: “The best way we can all show solidarity with each other is by sticking to the rules and the public health guidance.”
Ms Sturgeon paid tribute to unpaid volunteers and carers – “unpaid carers provide vital support at all times, but particularly during this pandemic.
“A Carers Allowance Supplement worth £460 a year is being paid to 83,000 people in Scotland and a further coronavirus supplement of £230 will also be paid at the end of this month automatically.”
Delayed discharge figures showed that 510 people went to care homes from hospital in April, and the latest report on long term hospital patients who have been discharged had now been published.
These included details on the number of older people discharged from hospitals to care homes.
An additional 600 people were discharged to their own homes over the same period.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirms 15,471 people have now tested positive for Covid-19, an increase of 53 from yesterday. She explained this figure includes 40 older positive test results only received today.
A further 12 people who tested positive have died, taking the total to 2,375 deaths in Scotland by that measure.
There are 1,168 patients in hospital with a suspected or confirmed case of covid (up 122, though confirmed cases fell by 23), with 34 being treated in intensive care (up seven, all suspected), and 3,721 people have been discharged from hospital after receiving treatment for the virus since 5 March.