CORONAVIRUS restrictions in Scotland could last until Christmas and beyond, Nicola Sturgeon has warned.
The First Minister published a report pledging an easing of the lockdown measures “in a phased and careful manner”.
But she said: “We have to be prepared for some kind of changes to how we live our lives being with us for potentially the rest of this year, maybe even beyond.”
At her regular daily briefing Ms Sturgeon said the number of people in Scotland who have died after testing positive for the virus was 1,120, up by 58 from Wednesday. The number in intensive care fell by seven to 148 and those in hospital by 28 to 1,776.
Ms Sturgeon described the falls as a cause for “real optimism”. She said the key aim was to continue to suppress the virus, adding the Scottish Government was “increasingly confident” the current measures were helping to do that.
But she said as restrictions began to be lifted there was a real risk that Covid-19 could run rampant again.
“So a return to normal as we knew it is not on the cards in the near future and it’s really important that I am upfront with you about that.
“What we must do is find a new normal, a way of living alongside this virus but in a form that keeps it under control and stops it taking the toll we know it can do.”
She said schools and workplaces might have to be “redesigned” to allow for continued social distancing.
And she said mass gatherings, such as large sporting matches, concerts and festivals, may not be permitted for “some months to come”.
She said: “I cannot conceive that in the near future we will be going back to having large numbers of people gathering together at large events, given the need to keep some kind of social distancing.”
The report set out the importance of effective surveillance of coronavirus, including “early and effective tracing of everyone a confirmed case has been in contact with over a certain period”.
It also warned: “If, after easing any restrictions, the evidence tells us we are unable to contain the transmission of the virus then we will have to reimpose them, possibly returning to lockdown with little notice. it is possible such a cycle may happen more than once until we reach a point when we have in place an effective vaccine.”
Ms Sturgeon said the government was also looking at issuing guidance on face coverings.