Thousands gather to protest that Black Lives Matter – despite pleas from police and politicians

By Bill Heaney

The number of deaths among people who have tested positive for coronavirus in Scotland rose by six to 2,415 on Saturday, and under the first phase of lockdown easing mass gatherings remained banned.

Today (Sunday), it was revealed that no new deaths of patients who have tested positive for coronavirus have been registered in Scotland in the past 24 hours, for the first time since 20 March.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said it is “positive news” but that “the room for manoeuvre within that progress remains small”.

Despite this, a Black Lives Matter protest went ahead at Glasgow Green at midday after it was moved from George Square to allow easier physical distancing.

Justice Secretary Hamza Yousaf, FM Nicola Sturgeon and a policeman pleading with a member of the public to stay in the house.

Police and politicians said they were risking their own lives and the lives of others dear to them, but the defiant protesters would not be moved.

Thousands of anti-racism campaigners were urged to “bring your masks, bring your gloves, bring your sanitiser” as protests go ahead in Glasgow and Edinburgh despite others moving their Black Lives Matter events online to stay within social distancing guidelines.

Benitha Iradukunda, who is helping organise the protest in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park, said: “Racism has been around for centuries and doing it physically is a way of emphasising and re-enforcing that we need change.”

She added that she has talked with police and the local council to ensure the protest, in response to the death of George Floyd in the United States, goes ahead peacefully and that “we’ve got stewards in place who are going to be enforcing social distancing”.

The Glasgow protest has been moved from George Square to Glasgow Green to allow social distancing, but others believe it is not the time for physical gatherings and the Scottish Trade Union Congress is having an online event tonight.

Among the speakers from 18:00 BST will be playwright Hannah Lavery, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf and nurse Kadie Johnson – sister of Sheku Bayoh, who died in Scottish police custody – who has urged people not to attend physical protests because of coronavirus fears.

Protesters confront NYPD officers outside the funeral of Patrick Dorismond in March 2000. Photograph: Henny Ray Abrams/AFP via Getty

Black Lives Matter protest demonstration in the US.

Anti-racism activist Tahliah Simumba has also moved a protest online – on a Glasgow-based online radio station, which will have talks and speeches by black activists and DJ and music sets from black artists.

At 1pm, an event began at Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park with the organisers asking those attending to wear PPE and to observe social distancing.

The virus continues to connect the news across Scotland.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman was asked by Gordon Brewer on BBC Scotland’s Politics programme about the government’s commitment to test every care worker in Scotland, which hasn’t yet happened.

She explained that care homes are businesses, which are either run by the private sector, the independent sector or by local authorities.

“I do not control the way care homes operate,” Ms Freeman added.

“I need their co-operation in delivering this policy. To the best of my knowledge, many of them are co-operating.

Jeane Freeman

“Where we hear of instances where that isn’t the case, the Care Inspectorate is conducting on-site inspections, and action is taken to address it.”

Of 50,000 care home workers and their families only an estimated 5,000 workers have so far been tested for the virus.

The health secretary said there are two reasons for this: The priority has been to test staff in care homes with an active case

While some health board areas have gone further with testing where there is not a case, “not all of them have moved as fast as I need them to”.

Ms Freeman said that, while testing is happening, it is “not happening consistently in a planned way across the country”.

She claimed to have issued an instruction to every NHS area board that the health service is on an “emergency footing”.

The government could not give exact figures but would publish this week the data on how many care home residents, and care home workers, have been tested.

People who have been in close contact with someone found to have Covid-19 are now being traced.

With around 37% of care homes in Scotland not having reported any Covid-19 cases, the health secretary was asked if she could guarantee that no workers from homes where there has been coronavirus, would be allowed to go to work in homes which have not had cases. She couldn’t.

Ms Freeman, said she hopes to learn by the end of June how many of the 908 patients found to have Covid-19 after being admitted to hospital for other conditions acquired the infection in hospital or prior to admission.

“We don’t yet know whether some, or all, of those people contracted the virus in hospital or whether they had the virus already and it was in the incubation period,” she added.  “Work is under way on that, which is important. Hopefully that will be validated by the end of June.”

Ms Freeman said discussions are also under way about testing staff in certain areas of hospitals – for example, those dealing with cancer patients – as parts of the NHS dealing with non-Covid treatment begin to resume.

Ms Freeman’s UK counterpart, with whom FM Nicola Sturgeon claims to be in lockstep and in no way politically opposed to on issues surrounding the pandemic, squirmed and obfuscated on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC 1.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted the government “made the right decisions at the right time” despite comments from Professor John Edmunds – an epidemiologist and government Sage adviser – that he wished the UK had gone into lockdown “earlier” so that more lives could have been saved.

Mr Hancock said there was a “broad range” of scientific opinions on the Sage scientific advisory committee and the government had been “guided by the science” and the balance of those opinions.

He also believed that restrictions had not being lifted too early despite one model indicating that the R number might be increasing in the north-west and south-west of England.

“We have got to be very cautious and have a safety-first approach,” he said. “Taking into account all the models – not just the one that has been making the news this week – we believe the R number is between 0.7 and 0.9.

“That means the number of new infections continues to fall. It is around 5.000–5.500 per day according to the best estimates.”

The economy continues to take it on the chin. A chain of Scottish hotels has given notice that 241 staff face redundancy at the start of August.

Crieff Hydro group is family owned and includes seven mainly rural hotels, including Crieff Hydro, Peebles Hydro and Ballachulish Hotel.

It is planning to shed more than quarter of its workers across the portfolio, with expected bookings down by 30-50% this year.

The number of job losses could be reduced or increased, depending on the pace at which lockdown regulations on the hospitality industry are eased.

Badly hit Skye, where a number of deaths have happened and the NHS has taken over a nursing home, was today urged to diversify away from tourism.

The pandemic is going to have “a devastating effect” on the Skye economy but is an opportunity for the island to diversify away from a tourism industry that is “the only show in town”, says Ronald MacDonald, a Glasgow University research professor of macroeconomics and a former Skye councillor.

He said that, even before the pandemic, he believed the reliance on tourism was “unsustainable” because the infrastructure of the island was “creaking” with the number of visitors.

Mr MacDonald looked to the example of New Zealand, where “the main tourist walks are very seriously restricted – you’ve got to have permits and so on”.

He added: “We have care homes here that have been badly affected by Covid. The last thing we want is a second episode in our community and many people here fear that if we don’t control the number of tourists that are going to revisit the island, then we face another outbreak.”

Mr MacDonald thinks Skye would be “an ideal place for people in the creative industries to live and work from home if they had access to superfast broadband.

He suggested that the wind farm system on the island could be adapted to create hydrogen, which he believes can fuel “a second industrial revolution in the Highlands”.

The pandemic is a “devastating blow” for the world economy, World Bank president David Malpass told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.

Mr Malpass warned that billions of people would have their livelihoods affected by the pandemic.

He said that the economic fallout could last for a decade.

In May, Mr Malpass warned that 60 million people could be pushed into “extreme poverty” by the effects of coronavirus.

West Dunbartonshire Council laid on a Civic Reception for the STUC in Clydebank.

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