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COVID tier decisions will always have a ‘degree of subjectivity’, Nicola Sturgeon says

Nicola Sturgeon with a face mask - Image credit: Jane Barlow/PA Wire/PA Images

COVID tier decisions will always have a ‘degree of subjectivity’, Nicola Sturgeon says

Decisions about what tiers to put areas into will always have a “degree of subjectivity”, Nicola Sturgeon has told MSPs.

Appearing before the Scottish Parliament’s COVID committee, the First Minister they were “not dealing with an exact science where a computer feeds out the answer for you”.

They could not avoid the situation where they had to apply a judgement to the data, she said.

Sturgeon also said that if a national lockdown became unavoidable they would aim to do that through the tiered framework, by the national application of level four restrictions, although there would be come choices within that as to the detail.

The First Minister was being asked to explain why some council areas had been put into tiers that didn’t appear to match the five indicators that provide the basis for allocating each region to a particular level.  

She said there was not a hierarchy or a weighting between the different indicators, they “look at it in the round”, but the indicators were not the whole picture.

“We look at it in the round and, as I set out to parliament last week, even the indicators are not the whole picture.

“We have to apply context and judgement to those, and we will look at not just what the cases per 100,000 are in an area but what the direction of travel is, is that rising or falling.”

However, she said that if it looked like NHS capacity in an area was about to be exceeded, “then that possibly would drive some pretty urgent action”.

She said that didn’t mean it was the most important indicator, but it would be the one that would prompt “some kind of immediate action”.

Asked whether she thought the new framework was more straightforward and transparent than what came before, Sturgeon said she did, but “that is a relative answer”.

“It’s, to be frank, one of the things I’ve struggled with as a decision maker, we’re not dealing with an exact science and we’re not dealing with a situation – it would make life easier for all of us, actually, if we were – but we’re not dealing with a situation where you can feed certain indicators into a computer that feeds out the answer for you.

She added: “We cannot have a purely mechanistic process because unfortunately the geography of our country, the interdependencies between different areas and just the vagaries of how an infectious virus spreads and operates means that we have to look very carefully at, and to a large extent be driven by, the data, but we cannot avoid a situation where we have to apply judgement to that.”

Giving the example of Lanarkshire, she said that in addition to the data indicating that things were levelling off there, they listened to submissions from the council, the public health authority and the police in deciding not to put the area in to level four restrictions last week.

“There is always going to be a degree of subjectivity about these decisions,” she said. “ I just don’t think there is any escaping that.”

Read the most recent article written by Jenni Davidson - Lessons from lockdown: interview with Michael Matheson

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