Coronavirus: Mixed messages across the four nations

Sarah Smith
Scotland editor
@BBCsarahsmithon Twitter

  • Published
Police in Glasgow during lockdownImage source, Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon says she must extend the lockdown in Scotland to stop a resurgence of the virus.

Because the rate of infection (the now famous R number) is still at or around one in Scotland, possibly slighter higher than in other parts of the UK, she says any easing of the current restrictions would be "very very risky" indeed.

This may not be the same message we hear from Boris Johnson on Sunday.

That means we could soon see different parts of the UK operating under different lockdown rules.

Already there has been some variation between the UK's four nations.

The Scottish government have advised everyone to wear a face covering in busy places where social distancing is not possible, like on public transport or in supermarkets.

All non essential building sites in Scotland have been closed but housebuilders have reopened sites in England.

Nicola Sturgeon announced school closures before the UK government. And it is very likely that Scottish schools will return to normal operations after those in England.

Despite these differences UK politicians often talk about a "four nations" approach to dealing with coronavirus. They seem to agree it is desirable that the whole of UK operates under the same rules. But it's clear that if they can't agree on what those rules should be then some divergence is inevitable.

Nicola Sturgeon is obviously concerned that the prime minster may lift some lockdown restrictions earlier than she believes would be wise for Scotland

Image source, Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA Wire

These decisions are, she says, quite literally a matter of life and death. So she will not be rushed or pressured into moving more quickly than she believes is safe.

Her view is that if we are to maintain a UK-wide approach then all parts of the UK will have to agree to move at the pace of the slowest nation. If the prime minister wants to move faster he can do so for England but he can't make any of the other UK nations do the same.

Despite her caution Nicola Sturgeon has already made public more details of how lockdown could eventually be lifted.

These include proposals for allowing more outdoor activities, allowing people to meet up with others from outside their households and getting the NHS back to normal operations, while simultaneously saying the rule for now remains "Stay Home".

She doesn't seem to be concerned that this sends mixed messages about what we are and are not allowed to do. But if the restrictions diverge significantly across the country it may become more confusing.