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Keep your distance

Social distancing is a new and unfamiliar state of being for so many of us, says Alison Johnstone.

Alison Johnstone MSP
Alison Johnstone MSP

The hashtag #StayAtHome was everywhere at the weekend, as people reported with disbelief that parks and beaches were teeming with people.

The advice from the First Minister and her clinical advisers was very clear – do not go out with friends, yet reports indicate our parks and beaches were busier than a bank holiday.

Some people clearly interpreted isolating themselves as a reason to take a break to a rural community. That is not on. The last thing communities who are hours away from the nearest hospital need is waves of tourists bringing the virus with them. I’ve been contacted by constituents who are worried that visitors are still heading to short-term lets in Lothian too, raising concerns about bumping into strangers coughing in stairwells and the wider impact on stretched services.

Heeding the advice means keeping even domestic travel to a minimum, it means staying at home more than we’re used to. It’s the only way to prevent this virus from claiming more lives.

Of course, to enable people to stay at home we have to make sure they are properly supported to do so. It is a particularly hard time for those who have already lost their job as a result of the closures, and the thousands of self-employed who are facing months without income. From entertainers to essential tradespeople, action is urgently needed for these people. To date, the measures to protect incomes announced by Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, offer insufficient help to self-employed people, and until they are guaranteed a basic income this time will be hardest for them. I join those calling upon the Chancellor to address this as a matter of urgency and hope that, by the time you are reading this, that support and reassurance has been delivered.

It’s important that we do what we can to protect our physical and mental health at the moment.

If we go outside, we must do this in a way that doesn’t put our health or that of others at risk. That’s not about us irresponsibly crowding out our parks, it’s about getting fresh air in isolation. The Chief Medical Officer has reinforced that being out once a day for fresh air and exercise remains vitally important, but we must do so responsibly. That means keeping two metres away from others, so staying away from anywhere that might be crowded.

With so many people ignoring the advice on social distancing, stricter rules have already been imposed, but it is important not to allow enforced isolation to disrupt your own mental and physical health. We can still look after ourselves and each other. We must, at this difficult time.

Because of the restrictions my office is closed at the moment, and my staff team is working remotely, but please don’t hesitate to contact me by email at Alison.johnstone.msp@parliament.scot