Scots aims to lift all Covid restrictions before 9 August
The first minister of Scotland has announced that the country will remove all legal Covid restrictions from Scotland in August.
Nicola Sturgeon spoke as she said lockdown easing would be paused for three weeks to give people more time to get vaccinated.
This means that mainland areas won’t be subject to the lowest level of zero restrictions until 19.
It is hoped that the rules remaining will be lifted by 9 August.
Ms Sturgeon stated that this would allow Scotland to return to “almost total normality”.
However, the government won’t recommend an immediate return of full office work on that date. People will still need to wear face masks in certain settings.
Scotland had 2,167 new cases Monday, the highest number since January’s peak. The country is also said to have the highest last week rate in Europe.
A 9.1% increase in the percentage of Covid-19 positive tests compared to 7.2% on the previous day was recorded. Four additional people who tested positive for the virus were also killed.
In the last 24 hours, there were 11,625 new cases in the UK and 27 deaths.
The daily case rate for Scotland has risen seven times since May and is 40% higher than the previous week. Ms Sturgeon stated that the faster-transmitting Delta variant of the Delta is now “predominant”.
The first minister stated that the vaccination program was breaking the connection between positive cases and deaths.
The original “route map” by the government to get out of lockdown would have seen Scotland move from Monday to level zero, the lowest point of the five-tier system.
This has been moved back to 19 Jul – the same day that measures are scheduled to be lifted in England.
Orkney, Shetland, and the Western Isles are all already at level zero. All mainland areas are in either level one or two of the five-tiered system of restrictions.
Certain “minor” changes may be implemented sooner: removing suppliers and staff of wedding services from the number cap at services starting Monday, allowing live entertainment at receptions and allowing people from multiple households to carry a coffin at a service.
Level zero will allow more people to meet indoors and reduce the need for physical distancing indoors (from 2m (6.5ft to 1m) to 1m (3.0ft). It will also increase the number allowed to attend weddings and funerals up to 200.
Ms. Sturgeon stated that this would be “a significant step back to normality”, but she said that she wants to get to level zero “as fast as it is prudent”.
She stated that the “major remaining legal limitations” could be lifted starting 9 August. This would signal a “return of almost complete normality to our day-to-day lives.”
Ms. Sturgeon said, “We will review and make a final evaluation nearer the time of whether this could include the lifting the legal requirement for physically distance indoors as outdoors.
She warned, however, that certain measures such as the wearing of face covers in shops and public transport and “rigorous and frequent hand-washing” are necessary “at least for a while”.
The first minister stated that there should be an “appropriate phasing of the return to work” after September 9, and said the government would continue to support home-based working wherever it was possible.
Changes are contingent on the suppression of cases and the achievement of targets in the vaccination program.
All adults in Scotland must have received at least one vaccine dose by 18 July. Everyone aged 40-49 will need to have both doses within a week.
All 30- to 39-year olds will have received a second dose by 20 August. Everyone over 18 years of age should have two doses by 12 Sept.
Ms. Sturgeon was questioned by Holyrood opposition leaders about her statement. MSPs will be discussing the extension of emergency powers into 2022.
Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, welcomed progress in the vaccination program and said that there was more information about when restrictions will be lifted.
He asked Ms. Sturgeon for details about the measures that would be continued after September 9, including whether masks would still need to be worn in schools and offices.
Ms. Sturgeon stated that the law requiring physical distancing could be repealed at that time, but that masks might be required to be worn in certain settings (e.g schools) for a while longer.
Anas Sarwar, leader of Scottish Labour, said that “we must ensure the last lockdown was the last lockdown”. He called for clearer messaging around financial support and protocols.