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A panel of the public convened by the Scottish Parliament’s COVID-19 Committee has reported its findings to MSPs. 

The 19-member panel, which broadly reflects the demographic make-up of Scotland, met over four Saturdays to consider the question ‘What priorities should shape the Scottish Government’s approach to COVID-19 restrictions and strategy in 2021’, hearing from experts to help inform its findings.

Key conclusions in its report include: 

  • The panel believes the Scottish Government should focus on stopping the spread of virus, ideally by pursuing an ‘elimination’ strategy.
  • The panel believes elimination would provide the fastest way back to ‘normal’, but also recognised that this needs maximum cooperation across UK, as well as accepting travel restrictions;
  • If this is not possible, the panel recommends a ‘maximum suppression’ strategy should be adopted, with a reinvigorated Test and Protect to keep case numbers low once they have dropped. The panel concluded that by tackling the direct harm of the virus head on, other harms (economic, societal, other health problems) will also reduce;
  • Priority should also be given to supporting a green recovery, young people’s economic opportunities, town centres, and continuing support for businesses;
  • The Scottish Government must therefore define what it is aiming to achieve and tell us what its strategy is moving forward. Key to understanding this is what it deems to be an acceptable level of infection in the population, so that it is clear what restrictions will be effective in 2021.

The panel also considered wider issues associated with the pandemic within its deliberations. It agreed: 

  • Previous lockdowns happened too slowly – resulting in longer lockdowns and more deaths;
  • Communication and explaining strategies is key to public acceptance and understanding. This is most effective when scientists and clinicians can take centre stage;
  • Globally, no one is safe until everyone is safe.

Members of the panel have now given evidence to MSPs on the COVID-19 Committee about their report. In the coming weeks, the report will also inform MSPs’ consideration of the possible extension of the emergency Coronavirus legislation, which is currently due to expire at the end of March.

‘The Committee is very grateful to the members of the public and experts who gave their time to participate in deliberations,’ said COVID-19 Committee Convener, Donald Cameron MSP..

‘The steps taken to counter this virus are so drastic they would have been unimaginable a year ago. It is therefore vital we gauge the public mood as we enter into the next phase of managing the pandemic.

‘The considered priorities of this broadly representative group, who have looked at the issue with fresh eyes, will help inform us as we begin to look at the likely extension of the emergency powers, and work to ensure the efforts of Government are focused in the right place.

‘We are looking forward to hearing more from panel members, and testing their conclusions, at our next meeting.

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