Praise be! Pubs (and churches) to re-open

Screenshot 2020-07-10 at 13.27.20

Sometimes I wonder if Nicola Sturgeon ever sleeps.

Not only does she have to run the country and the campaign to set up a new country, but leading the Covid-19 response has brought her an unexpected career move: live TV host. As lunchtime talk shows go, her daily coronavirus updates are grim, repetitive, and depressing, but still better than Loose Women.

Recess means the Scottish Parliament isn’t sitting at the moment but the First Minister rocked up for her usual Thursday slot with an announcement about Phase Three of lockdown. In lieu of First Minister’s Questions, we had to settle for a ‘First Minister Statement’. Eventually, she’ll just send Fergus Ewing down the mountain with stone tablets.

The gist of the latest sermon was that places of worship would return for communal services from July 15, although with limits on number of attendees and restrictions on hymns and chants. Singing indoors is believed to have spread Covid-19 among some congregations and no one wants the roll being called up yonder any sooner than needs be.

Pubs will reopen but Sturgeon advised us to ‘avoid, literally like the plague, indoor activities’. That cliche used to be annoying but at least it used to be a cliche.

The First Minister decreed that some contact sports could resume from Monday, but neither she nor Jackson Carlaw bothered to wait till then. The Scottish Tory leader asked why Sturgeon was banning travel to and from all of Spain.

‘The decision includes the Canary Islands, which includes Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Tenerife and then onto La Gomera, and the Balearic Islands, which includes Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza, all of which have a very low incidence of Covid,’ he rhymed off.

‘I was starting to wonder there whether Jackson Carlaw was outlining his summer holiday plans,’ Sturgeon deadpanned.

She poked the needle in further: ‘I was also interested in what appeared to be a proposition from Jackson Carlaw, that where there are different prevalence rates within a different country then different arrangements should apply.’

‘The difference between Spain and the islands is that there’s a thousand miles of water, which there isn’t between Scotland and England, however much the SNP might wish it otherwise,’ Carlaw riposted.

Sturgeon said dental surgeries could reopen from Monday, though dentists would not be allowed to use aerosol-generating devices like drills until further notice. Finally, a lockdown measure we can all get behind. Gyms and call centres would also remain shut for the foreseeable. At this point, I started to wonder if I had been wrong all along about this wise and sensible woman.

Then she went and spoiled it by relaxing the two-metre rule for public transport. That’s the one place where it should be doubled. There is an implicit contract involved in taking a bus or train in Britain: don’t sit next to me, avoid eye contact, wear headphones, keep your child out of sneezing distance, and if you sit your bag on a seat, I will spend the rest of the journey furiously tutting, unless you offer to move it, in which case I will pretend I never wanted to sit in the first place.

Oh, and there was a splendid piece of spin from the First Minister. Jackson Carlaw asked why her pledge to expand childcare was ‘on hold’ when parents were trying to return to work. Sturgeon explained that policy was ‘not on hold — it has inevitably had to have a re-evaluated timescale’. Straight face. Not a snicker. What a pro.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters [insert @ symbol]

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