Weekly Poll – Changes to COVID-19 Guidance

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 10 January 2022, we asked a question about changes to COVID-19 Guidance.

Results

Question. Do you agree with the updated guidance that was introduced in Scotland over the festive period in response to the Omicron variant of COVID-19? 

  • YES – 65% (54 respondents)
  • NO – 35% (29 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Support Updated Guidance

In December 2021, new guidance was introduced by the Scottish Government to manage the increased risks of transmission associated with the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The guidance included reducing social interaction at home or in indoor public places to a maximum of three households at any time, with everyone encouraged to take a lateral flow test before meeting. This was also reflected in updated guidance for visiting care homes – with no more than two households to visit a resident at a time – and in hospitals, with no more than two visitors at any time. One metre physical distancing was reinstated in all hospitality and indoor leisure venues. In all settings, people were advised to take a lateral flow test before meeting.

A majority of respondents (65%) supported the updated guidance that was introduced over the festive period. There was recognition of the importance of following the guidance in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

“With such a contagious virus which can make some people very ill indeed, it was sensible to take precautionary measures. it is always better to act quickly in such situations.”

“While it was regrettable that once again there was restrictions and guidance around the festive period, it had to be the case. This was once again an unknown issue the government had to think of the NHS and other organisations such as the care sector.”

“I wanted to spend Christmas with my family, so we didn’t meet anyone else or go out anywhere. I think that was the best decision we could have made as we got to be with the family safely and without worry of COVID.”

“As far as this virus is concerned, we are on a steep learning curve, but one thing has become apparent early on and that is that elderly and vulnerable people are at greater risk of death and severe illness from the virus. That does not mean younger, healthier people are immune, research shows that many still fall ill and a proportion of unvaccinated still pass on. Therefore, the onus is upon us all to act with responsibility, accept the vaccination – not only for our own protection but also for the protection of those around us – and reduce the ability of the virus to contaminate others. This is not only for the immediate danger of the life-threatening capabilities of the disease but also to reduce the risk of “long covid” which is also proving to be serious and a huge drain on NHS resources.”

Extend Measures Further

A portion of respondents believed that the updated guidance was brought in too late and did not go far enough. This was of particular concern for people who are at the highest risk from COVID, some of whom were previously in the shielding category.

“I think the guidance should have been stricter to protect those still shielding and their unpaid carers.”

“As someone who is on the shielding list, I mostly agree with the government in the way they handled it, but I would have liked it to be stricter than it was.”

“I am still being cautious. It can affect confidence, so need to balance this. Less guidance and less adherence to mask wearing and physical distancing can create an environment which feels unsafe. I am concerned that disabled people will be brushed aside rather than listened to or ‘seen’.”

“Short of another Christmas and New Year lockdown, these policies and advice were level-headed and wise, in the circumstances. One small criticism is, I feel they were called rather later than was necessary, long after people will have made hotel bookings and travel plans to attend the planned events.”

“I agree with this guidance, but it was implemented too late and was not extensive enough. As we have seen time and time again throughout this pandemic, measures to control the spread of the virus has been too little, too late and not for long enough. Procrastination and lack of personal responsibility have fuelled this pandemic from the outset and will continue to do so.”

Accessible Information

It is vital that important public health messaging about the response to COVID-19 is clear, concise, and available in a range of accessible formats, such as British Sign Language, Easy Read, and large print. Some respondents have found it challenging to understand the guidance due to a lack of accessible formats, inconsistent interpretations, and variations of measures across the UK.

“I personally found the guidance very confusing and not at all clear. It is difficult to agree with something that I can’t understand. One of the issues I have continually encountered during this pandemic is a lack of accessible information. Changing the guidance to reflect a changing situation is the right thing to do but if it isn’t backed up by accessible and easy to understand information it just leads to confusion about what you are supposed to be doing! I know that my difficulties are caused by my disability which makes comprehension difficult but when I have asked neighbours what things mean they don’t understand, and they are your average normal person. If they don’t understand there is an issue with communication that affects everyone.”

“Advice in Scotland from the government may be consistent but there is still misleading information between the UK government and devolved administrations. You would hope by this time almost two years into COVID restrictions, there would be consistent UK wide guidance. In addition, guidance isn’t applied consistently in environments where it should be followed to the letter. For example, in hospital situations guidance states no more than two visitors at any time but the hospital closest to me still only allows one nominated visitor go. I would suggest the public are confused due to still inconsistent advice and implementation of such advice.”

“While I totally agree with the new guidance issued, there does seem to be mixed messages given by the First Minister and those implementing and enforcing such changes and, as a result, this often causes much confusion in the minds not only of the public but in the minds of many implementing the guidance in some public sector bodies. Messaging needs to be clear and concise at all times otherwise such confusion will only continue and that helps no one.”

Easing of Restrictions

As a result of a reduction in COVID cases across Scotland, a phased lifting of the restrictions began on 17 January 2022 with an end to the 500-person cap on the number of people allowed to attend live outdoor events. This was followed by an announcement that from 24 January 2022, the remaining restrictions will be eased. Rules on indoor events and venues, including the need for table service in hospitality premises will be lifted and nightclubs will also be allowed to reopen. Advice to limit indoor gatherings to three households is also being removed and vaccine passports will not be extended to include other settings. Some respondents believed that restrictions were being eased too soon.

“I don’t think things like going from 500 to 60,000 is a phased approach and I am one of those fans. It’s as if they’re just going to let us get on with it now and never mind the death toll rising again.”

“I think it was too lax because the new variant is so easy to pass from person to person. I am also now very concerned about the fact that more people will pass it on to others from going to football etc. Finally, I think it is too soon – not to check that everybody going to a pub etc are not checked as negative for COVID.”

In contrast, a portion of respondents believed that consideration must be given on how the public can learn to live with COVID-19.

“People in the high-risk category need to remain cautious, but we do need to accept that we need to learn to live with COVID as it is not doing our mental health any good. I think we need to accept that wearing a mask is a small price to pay if it keeps people safe. People also need to be aware of their social responsibilities and not put others at risk. By ‘learning to live with COVID’ does not mean people have to be reckless – we are entering a new era of living with pandemics such as COVID. Vaccinations should be compulsory, especially in the care sector, unless of course there are medical exemptions. More investment also needed on the effects of Long COVID and Public Health.”

“We have to learn to be responsible for our own lives. Not to cower down to fear either. There needs to be balance in life. We need to keep local businesses and entertainment open – for positive community spirit, mental wellbeing and bring in money for everyone.”

“I believe the one-size-fits-all approach is now rendered useless. We should be doing more (most) to protect the most vulnerable – both their health and social factors such as income. We can do less for the least vulnerable, and I think the time has now come to let things start to return to a more open and free society.”

Conclusion

A majority of respondents supported the guidance that was introduced in December 2021 in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Respondents stated that the measures were necessary in order to protect the public and reduce the stress on the National Health Service. Concerns were raised by disabled people, some of whom were previously shielding, who believed that the measures were introduced too slowly and did not go far enough. A portion of respondents believed there has been inconsistent messaging and interpretation of the updated guidance. It is important that public health messaging is clear, concise and meets accessibility standards to reach as wide an audience as possible. When reflecting on the decision to ease restrictions, some respondents believed this was happening too soon. Whereas others recognised that there must be greater consideration on how the public can learn to live with COVID-19.