In a talk at a church in Edinburgh, the National Clinical Director questioned closure of schools
By Lucy Ashton
Professor Jason Leitch has admitted Nicola Sturgeon divided public opinion during the Covid pandemic as he said his role in the daily briefings was necessary to win “public consent”.
Prof Leitch, Scotland’s National Clinical Director, also suggested that closing the country’s schools was the wrong move and described lockdown as an “old fashioned approach to managing a disease that is going around the world in an aeroplane”.
His comments appear to undermine the tough tactics adopted by the Scottish and UK Governments, which caused huge disruption to education, the NHS, workplaces, businesses and society for two years.
Although the First Minister won plaudits for her handling of the crisis, many Scots felt like she was given far too much credit and there was an alternative view that her popularity was being overstated for political reasons.
Daily televised briefings were held – and screened dutifully on the BBC – for much longer than in the rest of the UK, leading to claims that Ms Sturgeon was using them to shore up her ratings and shut down debate on her record in office.
“We needed public consent because we are a democracy,” he continued. “The feeling was that a clinical leader would be better than a politician because only half [of the country] liked Nicola Sturgeon and the other half didn’t. But more than half trusted her.”
‘It felt unchristian not being able to hug’
His comments came during a public talk entitled entitled ‘Faith in the Covid era’ at Christ Church in Morningside, Edinburgh, on Sunday, March 12.
He admitted “that I made some missteps” but said: “We did what we did because of the knowledge we had at the time. I don’t know if we would do it the same way again because we have different knowledge now. I wonder if closing the schools is something we would reconsider.”
“Lockdown is an old fashioned approach to managing a disease that is going around the world in an aeroplane,” he said, before going on to warn: “In another pandemic there would be no government help to businesses and no furlough money workers.”
Prof Leitch, who is a member of Airdrie Baptist Church, confessed that during the pandemic “it felt unchristian not being able to hug and to make human connections”.
Looking back to the autumn of 2020, he recalled stating to colleagues: “There is no way Christmas is going to be normal. I’d prepare yourself for a digital Christmas. That was the truth but I’m not sure if that was the right moment to tell the children and the country that they were not going to have a normal Christmas.”
In his talk, he said: “In answer to the question ‘what did we do to faith? It is more important to ask what we did to humans and that will live with me forever. I had family that I did not see and that were not being educated. There were old people in my church who were dying alone. That was horrible. And what was happening in care homes and in schools that will stay with me for ever.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Every death during the pandemic is a tragedy and our thoughts and condolences are with all those who lost a loved one.
“Our priority throughout the pandemic was to save lives and reduce the harms of the disease. As Jason Leitch stated in this talk, we sought to take the best decisions, based on the best scientific and clinical evidence that we had at any given time, to keep people as safe as possible. It stands to reason that we would adapt our response to any future pandemic based on the things we learned during the Covid crisis.
“Since the early stages of our pandemic response we have been committed to a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic in Scotland, to ensure that lessons are learned for the future and the First Minister has commissioned a Standing Committee to make recommendations on how we could be better prepared for the next time.”
The Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry is currently gathering evidence and is expected to announce later this week its programme of public hearings to be held in Edinburgh.