Nicola Sturgeon to ease coronavirus lockdown rules in Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon has announced people in Scotland will be allowed to meet friends outdoors, sunbathe and start shopping at garden centres from 28 May as she unveiled the slow easing of the lockdown.

The first minister told MSPs she wanted to see a suitably cautious lifting of some lockdown restrictions from next Thursday mirroring the relaxations already announced in other parts of the UK.

Sturgeon confirmed outdoor sports such as tennis and golf could restart next week and people could visit nearby parks and beauty spots. Outdoor cafes, recycling centres and drive-through restaurants will also be permitted to reopen as part of the four-step plan she outlined for easing the lockdown.

She said all Scotland’s schools would reopen from 11 August with a “blended model” of part-time teaching in school and at home, with teachers going back to school from June to start preparing their classrooms.

From June, children moving from primary school to secondary school this summer would also be given help with the transition to secondary school.

She added, however, that tight restrictions on allowing relatives and friends to gather at funerals, and the ban on bars and hairdressers from reopening, would not be relaxed for at least three weeks.

“The steps we will take are by necessity gradual and incremental – and they must also be matched with rigorous, ongoing monitoring of the virus,” Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament.

“There is no completely risk-free way of lifting lockdown. But we must mitigate the risks as much as possible. And we must not at any stage act rashly or recklessly. [If] we move too quickly or without proper care, it could run out of control again very quickly.”

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The World Health Organization (WHO) guidance on face masks has remained consistent during the coronavirus pandemic. It has stuck to the line that masks are for healthcare workers – not the public. 

“Wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including Covid-19. However, the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection, and other measures should also be adopted,” the WHO has stated.

Nevertheless, as some countries have eased lockdown conditions, they have been making it mandatory to wear face coverings outside, as a way of trying to inhibit spread of the virus. This is in the belief that the face covering will prevent people who cough and sneeze ejecting the virus any great distance. 

There is no robust scientific evidence – in the form of trials – that ordinary masks block the virus from infecting people who wear them. There is also concerns the public will not understand how to use a mask properly, and may get infected if they come into contact with the virus when they take it off and then touch their faces.

Also underlying the WHO’s concerns is the shortage of high-quality protective masks for frontline healthcare workers.

Nevertheless, masks do have a role when used by people who are already infected. It is accepted that they can block transmission to other people. Given that many people with Covid-19 do not show any symptoms for the first days after they are infected, masks clearly have a potential role to play, especially on crowded public transport as people return to work..

 Sarah Boseley Health editor

She warned that the lockdown could be reimposed if the virus returned, and urged people in Scotland to continue observing all existing restrictions until the first relaxation began next Thursday.

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Scotland is the last of the four parts of the UK to publish specific plans on easing the lockdown; the prime minister, Boris Johnson, did so on 10 May, with Wales and Northern Ireland already allowing outdoor sports, recycling centres and garden centres to restart.

The latest Scottish data on deaths in hospitals, intensive care cases and hospital admissions confirmed the gradual decline in the severity of the outbreak. While the number of deaths with confirmed Covid-19 climbed by 37 to 2,221, the number in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 fell by 125 to 1,318.

Sturgeon added that:

Non-essential indoor shops, pubs and restaurants must remain closed for at least three weeks, with no date yet set for their reopening.

The building trade would be allowed to slowly resume construction.

Childminders could slowly resume work from next week, and all nurseries would resume slowly this summer.

Universities in Scotland would reopen in September by combining remote learning with limited on-campus tuition.

Opposition parties broadly welcomed the phased approach but Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tory leader, said Sturgeon’s statement raised a series of questions about how it would work in practice. “Scotland is already on the move,” he said.

He urged Sturgeon to publish sector by sector plans and the clearest possible instructions on what was allowed. As the changes became more nuanced “so the need for clarity will be more urgent than ever”, he said.

Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, urged Sturgeon to publish all the evidence and advice she was using to make the decisions, to introduce an emergency plan for care homes, and maximise the test, trace and isolate programme she promised would start in late May.

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Alison Johnstone, the co-leader of the Scottish Greens, said the Scottish government should have introduced a mass test, trace and isolate programme at an earlier stage. Many people were already ignoring the lockdown advice. The police were called to disperse crowds of sunbathers at Portobello beach in Edinburgh on Wednesday, she said.

Downing Street claimed Scotland’s announcement was a vindication of Johnson’s plan for lifting the lockdown – despite clashes over the prime minister’s abandonment of the “stay at home” slogan.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We welcome today’s announcement as it shows the UK-wide approach is working. We set out the roadmap a few weeks ago and now the devolved administrations are following that path at the right speed for them.”



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