Across the UK and Ireland, cases of Covid-19 have been increasing steeply over recent weeks. This rise has been dramatic in England where the Government has announced a national lockdown due to begin on November 5. According to the latest figures at the time this briefing is published 879,046 people in England have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began with the daily number of cases rising steeply since mid-September. On the 19th of October, for example, 22,050 people tested positive in England – compared to 3,938 on the 17th of September. The worst-hit regions have been the East Midlands, West Midlands, Yorkshire and The Humber, North West and London and highly divisive local lockdowns have been in place since Leicester was first locked down weeks ago.
In Wales 51,691 have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic, and Wales is currently in a national lockdown or “circuit breaker” as the Welsh Government decided that was the right course of action. In Northern Ireland where current restrictions are due to be reviewed on the 13th of November that figure is 39,116 and in the Republic of Ireland, where a 6 week lockdown was announced on the 19th of October, it is sitting at 62,002. In Scotland the total number of cases is at 65,061 with South Lanarkshire, North Lanarkshire and Glasgow along with neighbouring council areas being the worst affected.
Overview of the Levels
Restrictions in Scotland have been relatively tight when compared with England and since mid-September (with more restrictions imposed by health board areas in October) per capita Covid 19 cases in Scotland are, as of November 1, the lowest of the four home nations. However, in recognition of the growing number of cases across Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a five-tier system that would come into place on November 2.
Level 0 (almost normal): indoor meetings would be allowed (a maximum of eight people from three households) and fifteen people from five households can meet outdoors. Business can open with safety measures in place. This level would resemble the situation in August.
Level 1 (medium): indoor meetings are restricted to six people from two households. This level would resemble the situation in mid-September when cases began to rise but prevalence was fairly low.
Level 2 (high): this level resembles current restrictions across the Central Belt with no indoor meetings with other households and six people from two households can mee outdoors and in hospitality settings. Pubs, bars and restaurants can sell alcohol indoors until 8pm but only with a main meal.
Level 3 (very high): Similar to level 2 although alcohol sales are not permitted indoors or outdoors. Cafes, pubs and restaurants are allowed to open until 6pm to serve food and non-alcoholic drinks.
Level 4 (lockdown): Level 4 is only for regions where the NHS might be overwhelmed. Similar to the full lockdown experienced at the end of March it would see all non-essential shops close and gatherings restricted to six people from two households outdoors. Schools would remain open in this scenario.
Each of Scotland’s 32 councils has been assigned one of these levels. While no local authority has yet been assigned level 4, Scottish Government has voiced remaining concerns about both South and North Lanarkshire with the situation being reviewed on a daily basis. Nineteen local authorities, including most of the central belt, has been placed in level 3 while eight local authorities are in level 2. Just five Council areas will be in level 1: Highland, Moray, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. No local authorities have been placed in level 0.
This new framework has been designed to guide communities through varying degrees of lockdown until a Covid 19 vaccine becomes widely available. The situation will be reviewed on the 10th of November however for some councils including South and North Lanarkshire sitting on the border between two levels the situation will be reviewed daily.
Scottish Government rationale & local government consultation process
The consultation process that has informed the development of this strategy will be maintained throughout the coming weeks and months. As Scottish Government guidance sets out, this process begins with daily and weekly analysis of data which has been agreed with local partners including Directors of Public Health. The National Incident Management Team (NIMT), chaired by Public Health Scotland and including representatives from local government, will then consider this data weekly.
The advice from NIMT is then considered by chief advisers in Scottish Government, representing consideration of all the “four harms”, again this team includes representatives from local government. This group will help form recommendations for Ministers on the allocation of levels which will be discussed with the relevant local authorities.
Additionally, Scottish Government has worked closely with COSLA and SOLACE to engage with local authority Chief Executives, Council Leaders and Directors of Public Health who were invited to share their views on this strategic framework. As a result of this consultation some councils have been able to negotiate the level of restrictions they face. In Lanarkshire, for example, a joint letter from the Chief Executives of both local authorities argued against the possibility of placing both councils into level 4.
The Strategic Framework itself, including the content of the levels, has been subject to a full Parliamentary debate and vote. Any further revisions to the Framework will be subject to enhanced Parliamentary scrutiny.
Communication with councils has given many the time to develop their own public communication strategies e.g. Dundee where the Council has set up an advice page on its website. Naturally, there are questions about why each council has been placed in a certain tier and people point to anomalies, but the line has to be drawn somewhere. The more instructive part of this process will be when we are able to see councils moving into and out of tiers when the data supports that course of action. Hopefully, members of the public will be able to see that the sacrifices they are making every day are rewarded with more freedom albeit within certain constraints
Only time will tell if this strategic framework, alongside other changes, will work for Scotland in tackling this global pandemic or if a second national lockdown will be needed. FM has also offered travel guidance suggesting people do not travel to England or move outside council areas in high tiers unless it is essential and in senior schools it has been decided that S4-6 should wear face coverings in classrooms. Going forward LGIU will continue to ensure you get the latest news from all parts of the UK and around the world.