Many Scots are struggling to understand the logic of allowing thousands of football fans to congregate in Glasgow without mandatory Covid testing, according to one of the country’s leading public health experts, amid a growing row over inconsistencies in Scottish government restrictions.
Linda Bauld, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said policymakers were “between a rock and a hard place”. Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, she said: “This has become a big issue in Scotland, because it’s being allowed to go ahead at a time when lots of other things are still restricted and Glasgow is only a week out of level three.”
While she said the fan zone was “definitely less risky than a mass, indoor event”, Bauld added: “It’s also controversial because when you contrast this with all the other things that are still restricted, it’s hard for some families, communities and sectors to understand the logic”.
On Tuesday, Scotland’s health secretary, Humza Yousaf, told MSPs that the designated fan zone on Glasgow Green, where up to 6,000 Euro 2020 supporters can gather daily, would go ahead, despite an increase in cases of 50% across Scotland in the past week.
Yousaf told MSPs that while he understood concerns about the events, where ticket holders are encouraged to take a lateral flow test in advance but it is not mandatory, this would be an “outdoor, highly regulated space”.
Parents in particular have been voicing anger and frustration that the fan zone has been allowed to go ahead while continuing restrictions prevent them attending nursery, primary and high school leaving events as well as end of term sports days.
Martin Canavan, whose daughter attends a nursery on the Southside of Glasgow, told the Guardian: “Our wee girl was in tears when we told her we couldn’t come to her nursery graduation any more. They’ve been rehearsing their song for weeks. It feels like a pretty arbitrary decision to cancel these events when thousands can watch football, and people can drink in pubs.”
Glasgow’s hospitality sector has warned that many businesses will not survive if an increase in infection rates resulting from Euro 2020 events means the city is forced back into lockdown.
Bauld said she believed testing should have been made mandatory but that it was too late to set up now. “The problem is this just wasn’t factored in from the beginning. And to be perfectly honest, the fan zone is a big event, there’s a lot of sponsors involved, and there’s a lot of money associated with this, it’s very difficult to go back on it now or indeed introduce new restrictions late in the day.”
She added that while outdoor events with social distancing were generally low risk, “it’s all the things that come with a mass event. People on public transport travelling into the area from elsewhere, using toilets and maybe other indoor spaces, and then obviously if the matches get under way and the results are good, which everybody hopes, people might lose some of their inhibitions and there might be embracing and that has risks.”
Opposition parties are also calling on the Scottish government to review inconsistencies in restrictions. Fraser, the Scottish Conservative spokesperson for Covid recovery, told BBC Radio Scotland: “It’s absolute nonsense to allow up to 6,000 football fans to gather in the open air in Glasgow for one event, and not allow parents throughout Scotland to attend their school sport days in the open air, providing they’re doing so in a socially distanced and responsible manner, because the risk of infection from that must be lower than from this event in Glasgow.”