What a bloody mess. COVID cases across Scotland have spiked – with peaks at a number of university towns, with suspected student-to-student transmission fuelling the outbreaks. Who would have thought that throwing thousands of people from all different parts of the country together in halls and flats – using the same surfaces, utensils, bathroom facilities etc – would have given the virus license to spread?

Well, everybody, actually. That’s why calls for on-campus testing have been made for months from everyone from opposition politicians to the Scottish Government’s own public health advisor. Still, we are where we are. So, given that we now have hundreds of suspected cases in university populations, what to do?

Well, it turns out the Scottish Government has pressed the nuclear button, or maybe that should be the unclear button, as it’s been a case of mixed messages, backtracking, panic and overreach.

First, affected students and those they had come into contact with were being treated like any other adult in the same situation – get a test and self-isolate for 14 days. And, for the love of God, no parties – stick to the same rule of six (from two households) as everybody else.

But the rule of six in Scotland only counts outside. There’s no going into each others’ homes – but on Wednesday night, the National Clinical Director, Jason Leitch, went on TV to state categorically that it was ‘not going to be illegal’ for students to head home at weekends or on the holidays.

That line held until Nicola Sturgeon had sat down after First Ministers’ Questions before it was ‘clarified’ by Mr Leitch on social media – “The law is clear: they can’t meet indoors with another household – even mum and dad. Sorry.” Cynical? Not even the half of it.

Now, we’re talking here about a group of teenagers. The way the Scottish school system works, many of them are just 17 years old and away from home for the first time. They already had their exams disrupted and an utter fiasco surrounding their results and university placements – they’ve been told that there will be campus-based learning so have had to physically turn up (and take on expensive leases in university-run accommodation) and now find that, like the Hotel California, they can check out but never leave. And, if the complaints to my inbox are anything to go by, most of their lectures are online and could have been completed from anywhere.

So it’s all pretty miserable. Then the Scottish Government hauled in the univerities to discuss further crackdown measures. Thousands of students confined to rooms in uni accommodation. Extra staff to ‘monitor’ lockdown. No going to the shops to buy food. For those living in private rented flats – no going to pubs or restaurants. No socialising of any kind outside of their household. Mandatory downloading of the governments tracing app to their phone. University Principles writing to students to instruct compliance under threat of suspension, while the ban on travelling home to mum and dad is enforced by law. All of this announced just hours after parliament had finished sitting for the week (cynical again?) and ministers would not face urgent questions.

How any of this is supposed to work, no-one knows. Are bartenders supposed to ask everyone under 30 if they have a matriculation card?

The outcry was swift – The National Union of Students, the University and College Union, Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner and members of the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group have slammed the moves. So much so, Nicola Sturgeon had to go onto Twitter to try and calm people down – stating some of the moves are just for this weekend and that others “won’t be forever”.

So now we have thousands of teenagers, away from home for the first time, being told they can’t leave their room. In some cases, they have to wear a face mask to go to the loo along the corridor. They can’t go home. They can’t go out. They have people monitoring their movements for compliance. They can’t break their expensive rental agreements. And for many, their lectures have moved online anyway so there’s no academic need to be away from their families, who they are not allowed to return to. They are finding out what’s going on by social media updates as the National Clinical Director and First Minister of Scotland are forced to backtrack on rules and regulations affecting every part of their life over Twitter. Like I say, a bloody mess.