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Lockdown easing delayed in Scotland with restrictions to remain in place until 19 July – Sturgeon

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The current COVID-19 restrictions in Scotland will remain in place until 19 July after a 40% increase in new cases in the last week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The Scottish government’s original plan was for the entire nation to move to Level 0 from 28 June, but Ms Sturgeon has confirmed the current rules will remain in place for three more weeks.

The revised route map will see all areas of Scotland which have not already done so move to Level 0 from mid-July, at which point the limits on household gatherings indoors will increase.

It is also hoped that the two-metre social distancing requirement can be reduced to one metre on this date “assuming the data supports this”, the first minister said.

And the Scottish government plans to lift all major remaining legal coronavirus restrictions on 9 August if possible, she told MSPs.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomes Prime Minister Boris Johnson outside Bute House in Edinburgh
Image: The plan is now for both England and Scotland to relax restrictions on 19 July

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Ms Sturgeon made the announcement at Holyrood on Tuesday as part of the latest review of the country’s route map out of lockdown.

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She said the three-week postponement to lockdown easing was down to increasing case numbers, after 2,167 cases were recorded in Scotland in the past 24 hours – the highest daily figure since 8 January.

“Assuming we are meeting the revised strategic aim, we hope that all parts of Scotland, not currently in that level, can move to Level 0 on 19 July,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“That means, for example, that the limits for household gatherings indoors will increase from that date, and up to 200 people will be able to attend weddings and funerals.

“We also hope – assuming the data supports this – that the general indoor physical distancing requirement can be reduced from two metres to one metre.

“And we hope, from that date, to lift the outdoor requirement to physically distance.

“In addition – in recognition of the reduced risk of outdoor transmission and therefore the desire to encourage people to stay outdoors as much as possible – we hope that limits on informal outdoor social gatherings, in private gardens for example, will also be removed at this stage.”

The first minister added that she believes plans to lift the remaining restrictions on 9 August are both “possible and proportionate”.

“Our assessment – on balance and assuming we meet the necessary conditions on vaccination and harm reduction – is that it would be possible and proportionate to lift the major remaining legal restrictions on 9 August,” she told parliament.

“We will consider and make a final assessment nearer the time of whether – as we hope – this could include the lifting of the legal requirement to physically distance indoors as well as outdoors.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “The move beyond Level 0 will be a major milestone and it will signal a return to almost complete normality in our day to day lives.

“Of course, while this is a longed-for moment, it is important to recognise that we still have a difficult path to navigate over the next few weeks to meet these milestones and, even assuming we do, the pandemic will not be completely over at this stage.

“As our Strategic Framework Update paper sets out, basic mitigations will still be required, as we move through summer and into the autumn, when we face the risk of a further resurgence in cases.”

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The first minister also announced that the immediate return of all workers to offices when restrictions are lifted will not be recommended by the Scottish government, with a phased approach taken instead.

“While recognising that a return to the workplace will be right for many, we will encourage continued support for home working where it is possible and appropriate,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“This won’t just assist with control of the virus, it will also help promote well-being more generally.

“However, I think many would agree that, as a general principle, home-working should be more possible post-COVID than it was before.”

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs the 19 July date for the easing of restrictions in Scotland is possible due to the success of the vaccination programme, adding that all priority groups in Scotland will have been fully vaccinated by this Sunday.

The top nine priority groups set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) include everyone over the age of 50, with underlying health conditions and unpaid carers, and represent 99% of all COVID deaths during the pandemic.

A member of the public is given their first vaccine jab at Edinburgh's Western General Hospital (file pic)
Image: Nicola Sturgeon says all of the top nine priority groups should have been double vaccinated by 18 July

“The fact that virtually all of them will be fully vaccinated by the end of this week is hugely significant,” the first minister said.

The new date for the easing of restrictions in Scotland is now in line with England, after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson postponed the lifting of lockdown by four weeks earlier this month.

Last week, the first minister had hinted that it was “unlikely” that any area would see restrictions eased on the original 28 June date.

Level 0 is only currently in place in the island authorities of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, with all mainland areas having either Level 1 or Level 2 restrictions applied.