NICOLA Sturgeon has asked Westminster not to roll out its new “stay alert” advertising campaign in Scotland amid fears dropping the “stay at home” message could cost lives.
The First Minister and her counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland have all rejected Boris Johnson’s updated slogan – stay alert, control the virus, save lives – following criticism it is unclear and may undermine existing guidance.
The three leaders were not consulted on the replacement to the “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” slogan ahead of it being unveiled in some Sunday newspapers. They have each insisted the original message remains in place in their devolved nation.
Speaking at her daily press briefing yesterday, Sturgeon said: “I have asked the UK Government not to deploy their ‘stay alert’ advertising campaign in Scotland.
“Because the message in Scotland at this stage is not stay at home if you can, the message is, except for the essential reasons you know about, stay at home full stop.”
She added: “I am clear that for Scotland, at this present moment, relaxing too many restrictions too quickly creates the risk that the virus will take off again. I am not prepared to take that risk.”
Asked if the new UK message could put lives at risk in Scotland, she said: “I think there is a risk of people dying unnecessarily in Scotland if we were to drop the ‘stay at home’ message.
“Because the evidence I see says we are still at such a fragile stage and that progress we have made is not yet enough and strong enough to change our message.”
She added it was up to the Prime Minister to judge the scientific evidence on the infection rate of the virus in England and make his own conclusions.
“It is entirely possible for our own populations we are both taking perfectly defensible and justifiable decisions,” she said.
“For Scotland right now, given the fragility of the progress we’ve made, given the critical point we are at, it would be catastrophic for me to drop the ‘stay at home’ message which is why I am not prepared to do it.
“I am particularly not to do it in favour of a message that is vague and imprecise.”
She went on: “I don’t know what ‘stay alert’ means. Presumably we all live our lives in normal times staying alert to danger.”
As the row over the slogan erupted the UK Government’s efforts to maintain a unified four nation approach to the pandemic seemed to be in jeopardy.
Earlier the First Minister had revealed she only learnt of Boris Johnson’s change to the slogan in press reports.
“It is of course for him to decide what’s most appropriate for England, but given the critical point we are at in tackling the virus, #StayHomeSaveLives remains my clear message to Scotland at this stage,” she tweeted.
Her Welsh counterpart, Mark Drakeford, said the “stay home” message has not changed in Wales, and Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, also said her nation will continue to use the “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” message.
The PM tweeted his new advice, saying that people should “stay at home as much as possible”, keep two metres apart when outside and “limit contact with other people”.
Downing Street sought to explain the “control the virus” aspect, saying the public could do that by keeping the rate of infection down by “staying alert and following the rules”.
But behavioural expert Professor Susan Michie, who is a member of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage), said the new slogan is “a long way from” being clear and consistent.
“Dropping the ‘stay at home’ message from the main slogan in favour of generalised alertness may be taken as a green light by many to not stay at home and begin socialising with friends and other activities that increase the risk of transmission,” she said.
“This could potentially undermine the good work over the last few weeks that has seen impressively sustained high levels of adherence by the public in what for many are very challenging situations.”
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said the new warning system will allow for restrictions to be strengthened or relaxed in different areas depending on localised outbreaks.
He added: “We hope that they will agree to a consistent approach across the country, that’s our strong preference.”
However, when questioned on the BBC, he struggled to concisely explain exactly what the new advice means.