First Minister sets out 'slow but hopefully steady' journey out of lockdown
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Nicola Sturgeon has paved the way for a return to a regional system of Covid-19 restrictions as part of what she called a "slow but hopefully steady" approach to getting back to normality.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament today she outlined a "phased but significant reopening of the economy" which could see non-essential retail, hospitality and services such as hairdressers and gyms restarting from the last week in April.
The immediate priority will continue to be the gradual return of education, the First Minister said, building on the return of some pupils to school this week.
On the basis that progress in suppressing the virus and vaccinating key groups remains on track, restrictions would be eased in the following order:
- The next phase of school returns with the rest of the primary school years, P4 to P7, and more senior phase secondary pupils back in the classroom for part of their learning and the limit on outdoor mixing between households increasing to four people from a maximum of two households
- The stay-at-home restriction to be lifted and any final school returns to take place. Communal worship to restart in limited numbers, mindful of the timing of major religious festivals. This phase would also see the reopening of retail, starting with an extension of the definition of essential retail and the removal of restrictions on click-and collect
- Return to a "levels approach" with all of Scotland moving to at least level three, with some possible adjustments. This could mean that from the last week of April there will be a phased reopening for non-essential retail, hospitality and services such as gyms and hairdressers.
Ms Sturgeon said there is likely to be a gap of at least three weeks between each easing of restrictions to assess the impact of changes, and to check that it is safe to proceed further using the six conditions for safe easing set out by the World Health Organisation.
As the vaccination programme progresses, a return to more variable levels of restrictions, which can vary by location, is likely when it is safe to do so.
She pledged that financial support will continue to be available to businesses as the country emerges from lockdown. This includes the ongoing commitment to fund the Strategic Framework Business Fund and to provide level four payments for an additional month once businesses are moved down a level.
These proposals are "contingent on receipt of additional consequentials from the UK government".
Ms Sturgeon said: “I know how hard current restrictions are after 11 long months of this pandemic. However, they are working and we can now see our way out of them.
"We are in a far better position now than at the start of January and these measures are initial steps on a slow but hopefully steady route back to much greater normality.
“Our intent remains to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there, while we strive to return to a more normal life for as many people as possible.
“At the moment, and for a bit longer, we need to rely very heavily on restrictions to suppress the virus. This is essential when the virus is so transmissible, and when case numbers are still quite high.
“In time, though – once the vast majority of the adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine – we hope that vaccination will become our main tool for suppressing the virus.
“The strategic framework is deliberately cautious at this stage but in the coming weeks, if the data allows and positive trends continue, we will seek to accelerate the easing of restrictions.”