DURING lockdown one last year, I arranged a television interview with New Zealand’s top epidemiologist and public health professor, Michael Baker. At that point, Professor Baker argued it should have been possible for Scotland, and indeed the UK, to follow New Zealand in a Covid elimination strategy.

Professor Baker explained he was a huge admirer of the public health tradition of these islands. Now, a year later, his tone is entirely different. Admiration has been replaced by bemused frustration, touching on contempt.

He says: “By every metric [New Zealand’s elimination approach] is outperforming the alternatives – from a public health point of view, an equity point of view, a freedoms point of view … an economic point of view.”

Baker goes on to explain that public health professionals are “disturbed” by the UK’s return to allowing Covid to circulate unchecked, and that the phrase “living with it” was a “meaningless slogan” that failed to communicate the consequences of millions of infections, or the alternative options for managing the virus.

“We often absorb a lot of our rhetoric from Europe and North America, which have really managed the pandemic very badly,” Baker says. “I don’t think we should necessarily follow or accept Boris Johnson and co saying, ‘Oh, we have to learn to live with virus’. We always have to be a bit sceptical about learning lessons from countries that have failed very badly.”

It is sometimes difficult to accept home truths from abroad. However, in this case we would do well to listen, even now when it is much later than we think but not too late to save sanity and lives.

The latest idiocy of “freedom day” from Downing Street risks the serialisation of tragedy. The “bodies” may not be “piled high” but they will be high enough. What is certain is an overflow of unnecessary human suffering as a semi-vaccinated UK takes “the virus on the chin”, to quote another of Johnson’s vacuous verbal banalities.

That is the grim reality behind the blithe UK Government acceptance that cases could rise to 100,000 a day, soaring past the previous second wave record of 80,000. Even with a vaccine-protected population this translates into thousands of hospitalisations each week. And behind even that dramatic figure lie the countless thousands more who will be laid low by long Covid. That is the level of expected sickness in Johnson’s Britain.

The National: Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Monday July 5, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire.

And unfortunately we have nothing to be proud of in Scotland. Last year, at least the presentation, if not always the substance, of our response was better than England.

This year we have toddled on behind every Downing Street idiocy, lock-stepped in the four nations road to perdition. As a result we now have one in every 100 Scots currently infected. Yesterday’s statement on “relaxation” is a case in point. It was presented as a cautious approach, somehow distinct from English gung-ho. It is nothing of the kind. Johnson’s conduct is outright insanity. Ours is just mad.

The one remaining substantive difference between the English and Scottish approaches is that Nicola Sturgeon is telling us to wear masks while Boris Johnson is asking for them to be worn.

These are the hard facts that have led us to our current reduced circumstances. Scotland kept schools open even after the exams and allowed the virus to sweep through an unvaccinated school population. Our once lauded vaccination programme is stumbling with panicked appeals for potential customers to attend virtually empty walk-in centres.

Meanwhile, “Test and Protect” is near collapse as half the country is “pinged” as close contacts, with the resultant staff chaos on essential services of enforced self-isolation.

Even the communication of the message, once the saving grace of the Scottish response, now looks uncertain. Why are we relaxing at all when the virus is still raging?

Why are people being told to stay outdoors while pubs and restaurants have been re-opened? Why does the instruction remain to avoid crowded spaces when we can switch on the television and see crowded sporting fixtures aplenty?

I believe that there is now hardly a single person in the country, including the omnipresent Jason Leitch, who clearly understands, according to the latest edicts, exactly how many households are allowed to gather in whatever settings (with or without counting children) before or after midnight, booked or unbooked.

The message has become totally confused and completely ineffectual.

Meanwhile, England’s real tragedy from Sunday will not be losing a football match on penalties but the inevitable coming penalty of more than 60,000 people packed into Wembley, raucously roared on by countless more in crowded pubs and clubs around their country. Mark my words, the bar bill for this lunacy will be in human misery.

Laughably, the Foreign Office advice to potential UK visitors to New Zealand is to beware of rapidly changing weather conditions and potential terrorism. They needn’t worry. New Zealand is already preparing to put the UK on a no-fly list.

New Zealand is the roughly the same size as Scotland. They have had 26 fatalities from Covid. In Scotland our death toll is now more than 10,000. There is now no need to say anything else.