Carmichael calls on PM to be guided by science over coronavirus

Criticism has been levelled against Boris Johnson’s lockdown exit strategy, with Shetland’s MP claiming the Prime Minister is coming under too much pressure from Conservative backbenchers.

Alistair Carmichael says he fears the PM is failing to rely on scientific evidence which has so far guided measures taken to combat coronavirus.

It comes after Mr Johnson signalled measures would be eased on Monday next week.

Identifying ways for businesses to get staff members back to work are among the possible areas for change.

Meanwhile, the Scottish government has welcomed a fall in the rate of deaths linked to coronavirus north of the border.

But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned progress against the virus was “too fragile” to “immediately ease restrictions in any meaningful way”.

For his part, Mr Carmichael believes there may be “some opportunities” for relaxing restriction measures – but only if the science backs that up.

The Liberal Democrat told The Shetland Times: “Some of what I hear does worry me, because it looks to me as if some of what they are talking about involves easing lockdown because they are getting pressure from their own backbenchers to do that.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 Graphic. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Rosario “Charo” Gutierrez)

“The question of how we manage lockdown has to be done on the basis of scientific evidence.”

He added: “My worry is that the longer it goes on the more influence the economy and political considerations will make over scientific and medical ones.”

Mr Carmichael added his priorities would be to get school children back in their classrooms and “as many local businesses as we can functioning again for the benefit of the people who need local services”.

“I think it’s probably unrealistic to expect that we’re going to have tourists coming back here for most of this season, if at all, and I just think these are the areas where we feel lockdown the hardest.”

He added: “I don’t think you’re going to get back to full schools from zero. I think we’re going to have to look at a phased return, and then we have to decide where priorities would be for that phased return.”

He suggested one priority may be to return pupils moving from primary to secondary first, as well as young people moving on from secondary school to higher education.

“I don’t think we are going to be able to do anything significant until we have got a proper track and trace regime in place. Anything else just risks a spike in cases again.”

But Tory MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston insisted the UK government was making decisions “rooted” in a “science-led approach”.

“It is entirely understandable that many people are becoming increasingly frustrated being asked to observe lockdown,” he said.

Jamie Halcro Johnston

“But it has saved lives and no one in Shetland needs reminding of the impact Covid-19 has had in the islands.

“It is therefore crucial that the steps we take as we come out of lockdown are based on robust science, have the confidence of the public and are clear and easy to understand.

“That’s why it is reassuring that the UK government has taken, and continues to take, the best scientific evidence available, and their proposals for test, track and trace is rooted in this science-led approach.”

He challenged the Scottish government to improve testing capacity and ensure Scotland “doesn’t miss out from being part of the NHS mobile app which could be so important in identifying those with exposure to Covid-19 and reducing the spread of the virus”.

“Equally important is that, as restrictions are lifted, everyone understands what is required of them in their daily lives. This really is a case of a common approach and a common message saving lives.

“Those who promote a differentiated approach ignore the practical implications of that.

“We must avoid mixing messages and any divergence in practice across the UK must be based on clear need, and not on doing things differently for the sake of it.”


Add Your Comment
  • Alastair Ball

    • May 7th, 2020 8:58

    How about getting our councillors back to work so that they can start getting to grips with developing an economic recovery plan to try and mitigate the effects of the impact of a government mandated shutdown.

    The four pillars of our economy are crumbling.

    1. Oil – massive cut backs in capital and operational expenditure due to oil price chaos (which is not Covid related).

    2. Tourism – relies on people outside the islands having money to spend, but if as is likely, we go into recession or maybe a worldwide depression holidays will not be high on peoples priorities as we will just be trying to survive.

    3. Fishing – boats tied up, depressed prices and no markets.

    4. Agriculture – the farmers and crofters facing uncertainty on stock sales and prices much the same as fishing.

    We need a plan for Shetland developed by local people, not by central government.

    Now is the time to be proactive, start the dialogue and try to get ahead of the game.

  • Helen Braynis

    • May 7th, 2020 18:09

    The other priority is restoring medical and dental services. Test patients and provide additional PPE if necessary. Following the science includes taking into account deaths from cancelled treatment, surgery, and screening, and at the less extreme end causing suffering. NHS Shetland has not had a new covid case for weeks, cannot start the app, but proposes using dentists for contact tracing. With growing backlogs of patients perhaps it could use dentists to provide dental treatment instead.


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