Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon 'cautiously optimistic' as Tories urge scrapping of most restrictions next month

Nicola Sturgeon has said she is “cautiously optimistic” about Scotland’s coronavirus situation as she was urged to scrap most restrictions from next month.

Monday, 17th January 2022, 5:35 pm

The Scottish Conservatives said only the requirement to wear face coverings in public places should remain.

The First Minister is set to confirm whether limits on indoor events and restrictions on hospitality will be lifted from next Monday.

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Picture: Russell Cheyne/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Attendance caps for large outdoor events have already been removed, paving the way for the return of fans to football stadiums.

Ms Sturgeon said the country was “in a better position than I feared we would be before Christmas”.

She will chair a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning before updating Holyrood about the Government’s plans later in the afternoon.

Asked about any possible changes to the Covid measures, Ms Sturgeon said: “I think everybody wants to see Covid end so it follows that everybody – me included – wants to see all restrictions end.

“I’m not going to pre-empt my statement.”

She added: “Today [Monday] the restriction on outdoor large-scale events is lifted.

“I hope we’ll be able to follow the trajectory I set out last week when I make my statement tomorrow, but the Cabinet needs to look at all of the up-to-date data tomorrow and come to decisions.

“Looking at that data right now, we’ve got reasons to continue to be cautiously optimistic that we’re turning the corner on this Omicron wave.

“That’s because people have responded magnificently, they’ve behaved in a way that’s helped stem to some extent the transmission of Omicron and we took sensible, balanced, proportionate steps.

“So we’re in a better position than I feared we would be before Christmas. But there’s still a need for caution because the health service, for example, continues to be under very, very acute pressure.”

The latest figures show the daily rate for positive coronavirus tests in Scotland has almost halved in a week.

Scotland recorded 6,221 new Covid cases in the previous 24 hours. At the same point last week, the daily figure stood at 11,827.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said the existing rules-based approach should be phased out in favour of public health advice.

From January 31, the party is calling for an end to business restrictions and an end to the existing guidance on household mixing and social distancing.

It said the vaccine passport scheme, which Ms Sturgeon is considering extending further, should be scrapped, face masks should no longer be used in schools and guidance on working from home should be phased out.

The party also called for self-isolation rules to be gradually phased out, with an aim to remove them entirely in coming months.

The Tories are also seeking an immediate end to the ban on indoor sports.

However, until the data becomes “even more encouraging”, the party said face masks should still be required in public places.

Mr Ross said: “The Scottish Government’s own data shows that we are past the peak of Omicron.

"The latest evidence means we can now be far more optimistic.

“Protecting mental health, physical health and Scottish jobs is every bit as important as slowing the spread of Covid.

"Our economy and the long-term health of the public must not be held back any longer than necessary.

“We believe the balance must now tip in favour of trusting the Scottish public to do the right thing and keep themselves and their families safe, as they have done throughout this pandemic.

“People across Scotland have learned to live with Covid.

"The success of Scotland and the UK’s vaccine scheme means the public can now tackle Covid through their own actions, without the need for so many government restrictions.

“We will be pushing the SNP Government to examine their own data and progressively remove restrictions.

"The current rules-based approach should be phased out in favour of less restrictive public health advice.”

Scottish Greens health and social care spokeswoman Gillian Mackay insisted “ripping up restrictions at a time when our NHS is still under pressure would be reckless”.

She said: “I am pleased that we are in a position where restrictions can begin to be relaxed, but it is essential that the situation continues to be monitored daily.

"We have seen before how the circumstances can change quickly, so caution must be maintained."

Scottish Labour urged Ms Sturgeon to address issues in the NHS and provide support for small businesses.

Deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “Just last week, we had Test and Protect staff being forced to turn to the media because their calls for further assistance had fallen on deaf ears.

“We have health boards going beyond ‘code black’ and reducing GP as well as hospital services; a staffing crisis with overworked employees at breaking point, and a social care system that is still reeling from the impact of SNP decisions at the start of the pandemic.

“This statement is the SNP’s opportunity to listen to and address the concerns of frontline NHS staff and patients."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said “green shoots” were starting to show as the number of new cases falls.

He said: “This week the First Minister has a clean-up operation to do, getting rid of out-of-date rules and putting in place a more logical and consistent set of guidance.

“At the moment you can go to the pub and to a football match, but indoor sports are still banned. We know that these activities have huge physical and mental benefits, so it’s time to bring that suspension to an end.

“Similarly we need to see confirmation that Covid ID cards are not going to be rolled out any further. They don’t tell you who is sick, so they are next to useless at stopping the spread.

"Instead it’s time for a fresh push on getting people signed up for boosters by hitting the phones and setting people’s nerves at ease.”