Scottish lockdown easing: Travel allowed from Friday as Nicola Sturgeon warns against cross-border travel
The travel ban within Scotland will be lifted from Friday, Nicola Sturgeon has announced, in a surprise move to ease lockdown restrictions ten days sooner than expected.
People will be allowed to travel anywhere in Scotland for recreation or to meet friends and family outdoors, bringing forward a relaxation that was originally scheduled from April 26.
But this rule will not apply to travel between Scotland and England, the First Minister said, warning Scots not to venture south of the border to visit the pubs, restaurants and shops which reopened in England on Monday, but will remain closed in Scotland until the final Monday of this month.
From Friday Scots will also be allowed to meet outdoors in groups of up to six people from six households – another relaxation brought forward from April 26.
Ms Sturgeon denied the bringing forward of easing, which will come into force ahead of the Scottish Cup Old Firm game on Sunday, was motivated by the coming Holyrood election and said the move had been made possible by better-than-expected Covid-19 figures.
The First Minister also announced Scots between the ages of 40 and 49 would begin to receive invitations for Covid-19 vaccination appointments “in the next few days” as the Scottish Government approaches reaching its target of offering a first dose to all over-50s and those with underlying health conditions by April 15.
It comes as the Scottish Government published details on the level restrictions which the country will soon return to, with all of mainland Scotland set to enter level three from April 26.
This will allow limited hospitality to open, with pubs and restaurants allowed to serve people indoors without alcohol until 8pm, and outdoors with alcohol as late as licensing laws allow.
Non-essential shops will be allowed to open, along with gyms, pools and leisure centres, and cross-border travel to England will also be allowed.
In response to a question about the risk of Scots travelling to England to visit pubs, Ms Sturgeon told a media briefing on Tuesday that she believed most people would be responsible.
“Remember, while pubs are not yet opened in Scotland, less than two weeks from now when they do open, they will be opened on a slightly more expansive basis than they are in England for the next three weeks, so these are swings and roundabouts,” she said.
“Why are we taking a further two weeks to open cross-border travel? Because for that two-week period, we have that difference in levels of restriction, particularly around hospitality, for example.
"We don't think it is yet safe for us to open up hospitality, because of the school reopening that is underway, because of some of the other changes.
"We think we need that extra couple of weeks, so we don't want people travelling across the border, going to pubs, and potentially bringing the virus back.”
While many are looking forward to this further easing of restrictions, some hospitality groups said the new level system did not go far enough.
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) called for Ms Sturgeon to allow bars and restaurants to serve alcohol indoors from April.
Under the existing plan, just one third of businesses will be able to open on April 26, the group said.
SLTA managing director Colin Wilkinson said: “We appreciate the baby steps and the continuing need for caution, but for most opening on April 26 will simply be unviable and that’s without taking into account the unpredictable Scottish weather.
“Even many businesses with suitable facilities to serve people customers outdoors have decided to wait until May 17 when the industry will be able to open until 10:30pm indoors with alcohol permitted and, for outdoors, until 10pm.”
Travel and tourism companies have mostly welcomed the move.
Loganair has announced that tickets are on sale to all destinations in the Scottish islands.
Chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said: “We are heartened to see the Scottish Government has set out a path to the safe re-opening of travel and tourism to and from Scotland’s islands – a move which has been made possible by the tremendous progress on the Covid vaccination programme.
"It is great news and can’t come a moment too soon for the parts of our islands’ economies which are hugely dependent on tourism.”
Outer Hebrides Tourism chief executive Rob McKinnon called the news “a relief to businesses across the islands that have endured a tough 12 months, and more recently been facing a wave of cancellations”.
The move was welcomed by the Scottish Conservatives.
Party leader Douglas Ross said: "After the cruel false dawn of the previous easing of restrictions and seeing other parts of the world plunged into a third lockdown, we cannot afford to get this wrong.
"But the data clearly suggests it is safe to move more quickly and with greater optimism.
"Scotland's hospitality sector is on its knees and that is compounded by seeing equivalent businesses across the border reopening sooner. Every day that doors stay closed, more jobs are lost."
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton called for more testing to prevent future lockdowns.
"After months of sacrifices, the public are finally regaining some hard-won freedoms,” he said.
"We shouldn't forget that what was billed as a fortnight-long circuit breaker lockdown for Glasgow has had most of Scotland in its grip for months.”
Restrictions on international travel are not yet due to be lifted.
Ms Sturgeon said: “It may well be the case that we do have to endure restrictions on international travel for a bit longer as the price we pay for much greater normality here in Scotland.”