Scotland Covid: Nicola Sturgeon confirms move to level 0 for Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed mainland Scotland will move to the lowest level of Covid-19 restrictions from July 19 but has warned the public they must continue to be cautious.
Speaking to a virtually recalled Holyrood as part of a Covid-19 update to MSPs, the First Minister confirmed mainland Scotland would move down to Level 0 from Monday next week.
It will be the first time the whole of Scotland has been subject to the same level of restrictions since September 1, 2020, when Glasgow was subject to restrictions on indoor meetings.
However Ms Sturgeon urged caution and highlighted the importance of the continued use of face coverings and physical distancing.
The move to Level 0 included some changes to the Scottish Government’s plans, including a delay in the return to office work, and the imposition of a midnight curfew on indoor hospitality.
The First Minister also announced that physical distancing of one metre will continue to apply outdoors instead of the planned removal of any restrictions around outdoor gatherings.
As part of the changes, Scots will be allowed to meet up to 10 people from four households in a public place, and eight people from four households at home.
The limit on the number of people at outdoor gatherings will rise to 15 from 15 households.
All indoor contact sport is also permitted in Level 0 and capacity at stadiums will increase to 2,000 outdoors and 400 indoors.
The number of people allowed to attend weddings and funerals will also jump to 200.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Lifting all restrictions and mitigations right now would put all of us at greater risk - but in particular it would make it much more difficult for the most clinically vulnerable to go about their normal lives.
"It would risk the imposition of shielding by default and that is not something we should do.
“The Scottish Government understands the temptation to lift more restrictions more quickly - of course we do.
“But in our view, and in line with clinical advice and modelling, a gradual approach stands the best chance of minimising further health harm and loss of life and because a gradual approach also stands the best chance of being sustainable, it will be better in the long term for the economy too.
“So we will continue to ease restrictions - but we will do so carefully.”
The First Minister also announced the Scottish Government’s intention to remove the requirement for double vaccinated people to isolate should they be a close contact of a positive Covid-19 case.
A two week gap from the second dose and a negative PCR test is required for double vaccinated people to avoid self-isolation.
Ms Sturgeon added that the government is also looking at whether it is possible to remove self-isolation from young people in schools, adding advice would be published “well in advance” of schools returning.
She added that double vaccinated people returning from amber list countries will also be allowed to avoid self-isolation provided they take a PCR test on the second day after arriving into Scotland.
The SNP leader also took a swipe at Boris Johnson’s move to make wearing face coverings a personal choice rather than law.
She told Holyrood: "It is my view that if government believes measures like this matter - and we do - we should say so, do what is necessary to ensure compliance, and take any resulting flak from those who disagree.
“We shouldn’t lift important restrictions to make our lives easier and then expect the public to take responsibility for doing the right thing anyway.”
Reacting to the statement, Douglas Ross raised questions around the failure of the Test and Protect system to meet World Health Organisation targets.
The leader of the Scottish Conservatives also highlighted the number of vaccine doses was the worst for three months and called on the First Minister to confirm that the planned lifting of restrictions on August 9 will go ahead, regardless of the vaccine programme’s progress.
He said: “Now is time to move forward, we can’t continue asking the public to sacrifice so much of their lives when we promised them that the vaccine would bring an end to restrictions.
"The balance has to tilt further in favour of moving forward, we have to make progress back to normality.
"The public have done what is expected of them, now it is time for this SNP government to deliver and hold up their end of the bargain.”
Responding, Ms Sturgeon hit back, criticising Mr Ross for a lack of consistency and insisting Scotland was moving at a “responsible pace”.
She said: “We are choosing to do this at a responsible pace, not an irresponsible pace.
"There is no logic and no consistency in on the one hand asking us to go faster in easing restrictions and on the other hand complaining about pressures in our hospitals because the latter would be exacerbated by the former.
"My job right now is not to take easy decisions for the benefit of good headlines.”
Anas Sarwar also called on Nicola Sturgeon to move faster with the vaccine rollout, calling on the Scottish Government to ignore JCVI advice and reduce the gap between vaccine doses from eight weeks to four, in line with WHO and manufacturer’s advice.
He said: “There is no doubt in the inconsistent decision making and the inconsistent communications over the past few weeks has had a negative impact on the pandemic response.
"I’m afraid what the First Minister’s presented today is not a clear strategy to cope with the new phase of the pandemic. This phase needs a new approach.
"She needs to listen to the WHO on vaccines. The vaccine is working, but it is not winning the race with the virus.
"Will the government now move to a four week gap between vaccines as recommended by the WHO, as recommended by manufacturers and has been led by other countries around the world?”
Rejecting Mr Sarwar’s suggestion as “unthinkable” and labelling the Scottish Labour leader “irresponsible”, Ms Sturgeon said it was right for the Scottish Government to follow JCVI guidance and claimed the advisory group was discussing whether to reduce the gap from eight weeks to four.
The Scottish Greens welcomed the cautious approach from Ms Sturgeon, but raised concerns that the impact of relaxing restrictions could be felt most by young people.
The party’s co-leader Lorna Slater said: “We remain particularly worried about those who remain vulnerable and for young people who may be asked to return to work or study without being fully vaccinated.
"Indoor hospitality events which can take place at level 0, for example, are likely to be staffed by people who are not fully protected. We’ve seen from the football related festivities that these can be super-spreader events.
“As our health services come under more strain, we need to make sure they are able to cope, and we are concerned that the decision to abandon isolation for international travel seems far too hasty, even though the UK Government has thrown caution to the wind.”