Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon indicates Covid-19 restrictions to be lifted in full on August 9
Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland will be free of all but the most basic Covid-19 measures by August 9 due to the success of vaccinations reducing the impact of the virus on the NHS.
The First Minister confirmed to MSPs in Holyrood on Tuesday that parts of the country such as Edinburgh and Glasgow still in level two restrictions would remain there for a further three weeks until July 19.
Ministers hope to move the majority of Scotland still in level one or two down to level zero on that date.
With physical distancing outside and indoors considered likely to be removed in law by August 9, the news will come as a major boost to the entertainment and arts industry as well as football clubs, with strict restrictions on attendances set to be lifted.
Nightclub owners could also see their premises open for the first time since March last year, with hospitality businesses able to open in full to customers.
The timing of the relaxations is intended to mirror the vaccination programme, with Ms Sturgeon stating the majority of Scots over the age of 30 will have received both jags by August 9.
She said all adults in Scotland would receive or be offered both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine by September 12 – the first firm target date for that achievement.
The announcement of Scotland’s own ‘freedom day’ came as the First Minister confirmed no changes to restrictions for the next three weeks, a decision she had last week indicated was likely to happen.
It means the majority of Scotland will remain in level one restrictions, with the majority of the Central Belt, including Edinburgh and Glasgow, to remain in level two until July 19.
A handful of islands moved to level zero earlier in the year.
However, Ms Sturgeon also announced a shift in the Scottish Government’s strategy in dealing with Covid-19.
Officials will now move away from a suppression strategy whereby it was hoped Covid-19 cases could be pushed as low as possible and instead move towards attempting to “suppress the virus to a level consistent with alleviating its harms while we recover and rebuild for a better future”.
This shift in strategy will allow the government to lift restrictions even if Covid-19 case numbers continue to grow exponentially due to the dominant and more transmissable Delta strain of the virus, provided hospitalisations and deaths continue at a low level.
Cases of Covid-19 have been steadily rising since early May with transmission believed to be driven by the new Delta variant.
A total of 2,167 new cases of Covid-19 were reported in the past 24 hours, data shows, with 9.1 per cent of all tests returning a positive result.
Four new deaths were reported on Monday, with 18 people in intensive care and 171 in hospital.
A total of 3,664,571 people have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, with 2,602,753 having received their first dose.
From July 19, all of Scotland will move down to level zero, which will see the limits on the number of people allowed to socialise indoors increase to eight people from four households in a private home, with that rising to ten people from four households in a public place.
A total of 15 people from 15 households will be allowed to meet outdoors from the same date.
Hospitality businesses will also be allowed to open according to local licensing laws rather than be forced to close early, with all adult indoor contact sport also permitted.
Minor changes around the number of people allowed at weddings and around pallbearers at funerals were also announced.
Physical distancing will also be reduced from two metres to one metre as part of the relaxation of restrictions.
However, from August 9, the First Minister said an almost complete lifting of Covid-19 restrictions would take place should vaccinations continue to limit the number of people in hospital or dying from Covid-19.
She said the Scottish Government plans to “lift the major remaining legal restrictions”, pending a review of the data closer to the date.
This could see a complete removal of the legal requirement to socially distance, Ms Sturgeon said, but with the continued requirement for face coverings in shops and public transport.
The SNP leader said the government would not seek to advise in favour of an immediate return to in-office working, with businesses set to consult on when office working can be reintroduced once Scotland is in level zero.
Travel restrictions to restrict the ability of new variants to be imported will continue, with further measures for education settings such as schools and universities to be reviewed ahead of the new term.
The levels system will also be available to the Scottish Government should there be any major local outbreaks.
Ms Sturgeon warned that none of the relaxations were set in stone, but said the reduction of serious illness seen through vaccination allowed the Scottish Government to lift restrictions.
She said: "We must remember that this is a global pandemic. It will not be over here, until it is over across the world. Unfortunately, the world is still some way from that.
“However, in Scotland, while transmission is causing concern at the moment, vaccination is giving us much of the protection that only harsh restrictions have been able to give us so far.
“That means we can now plan to move much more firmly from the need to control the virus through tough restrictions, to being able to live much more freely.
“But from July 19, and then more substantially from August 9, assuming we are meeting our revised strategic aim of alleviating the harm of the virus, life should feel much less restricted for all of us.
“A very significant degree of normality will be restored for individuals and for businesses.”
Responding to the statement, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross welcomed the move to lift restrictions, but said the Scottish Government had still fallen short on the degree of clarity needed.
He said: “It’s still up in the air if we will fully exit Covid restrictions in August or if the SNP Government are planning to continue with social distancing, capacity constraints indoors, and the wearing of masks in schools and offices.
“This new framework falls short of giving the clarity that people and businesses need to get on with their lives and plan for the future.”
Scottish Greens leader Patrick Harvie also urged the Scottish Government to retain quarantine for international arrivals and for self-isolation.
He said: “I share the feelings of hope that the vaccination programme could soon allow us to move beyond this incredibly difficult period of restrictions. But if we want that restored normality to last, we must still guard against the spread of further new variants, which will continue to emerge unpredictably around the world.
“In that context the UK Government’s desire to abandon quarantine and self-isolation is unnecessarily risky and could leave us incredibly vulnerable to losing the progress we’ve made.”