Confusion across west Scotland over coronavirus household ban

Nicola Sturgeon has said contact tracing data allowed an “early and targeted” intervention following a surge in coronavirus infections across the west of Scotland, as politicians in affected areas reported confusion among constituents about the new guidance.

On 1 September, Sturgeon announced restrictions on private indoor gatherings between households in Glasgow, East Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire, affecting around 800,000 residents for the next two weeks. Later on Wednesday, it emerged that health officials had found evidence of transmission of the virus between pupils in two Glasgow secondary schools.

At First Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, she said: “The data that we now get from test and protect allows us to be much more targeted in the measures that we take. We know that, unlike in the pub-based cluster in Aberdeen [which was subject to a stricter local lockdown] a few weeks ago, the data so far suggests that transmission in the west of Scotland is happening not exclusively, but mainly, in people’s homes.”

Local MSPs reported some initial confusion from constituents. Bob Doris, a Glasgow MSP, used Twitter to ask the Scottish government’s clinical director, Jason Leitch, whether informal childcare, such as children being picked up from school by grandparents, would be exempt. Leitch confirmed that it would be.

Jackie Baillie, Labour MSP for West Dunbarton, told the Guardian: “It would seem that the Scottish government are trying to stop family gatherings where individuals are not following social distancing as strictly as they should, but people are confused that it is fine to visit a grandparent in a restaurant but not at home.

“In general, compliance has been very high, but that of course changes when there are difficulties with understanding guidance. From my constituency inbox, some people are very worried, but others feel that the new guidance is inconsistent and needs a lot of explanation”.

Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens and a Glasgow MSP, said it was vital that new public health messaging was “crystal clear”, especially with thousands of students arriving in the city in the coming weeks. “Some people are understandably puzzled at why these new restrictions apply to homes, but not to cafes or restaurants,” he said.

While there are ongoing concerns about house parties, which have been linked to a number of clusters across the country and which Police Scotland now have additional powers to break up, it would appear that the new restrictions also target smaller private gatherings – even though those attending may believe they are being more responsible by staying at home rather than going to a pub or cafe.

A spokesperson for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, the health board on which all three affected councils sit, would only confirm that current clusters “give evidence of spread within and between households at parties and social gatherings in homes”.

Prof Linda Bauld, the Bruce and John Usher chair of public health at the University of Edinburgh, believes the restrictions were prompted by “a number of different clusters where it’s not just house parties, but modest-sized gatherings of people moving around in other homes.

“Clearly, for some pubs, when alcohol is involved and staff are not applying the guidelines in the way they should, there’s a risk there, but it’s an environment that can be more controlled than a bunch of people in somebody’s house where we feel it’s a less risky environment,” she said. “That’s misleading, because inside with poor ventilation, no routine cleaning, sharing glasses, hugging your friends, that’s a very risky environment.”

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