NICOLA Sturgeon has revealed how Scotland can begin the “gradual process” of easing coronavirus restrictions.
In a statement to Holyrood, the First Minister outlined a four-phase plan for moving out of the current state of lockdown which has been in place since 23 March.
She said the routemap setting out the approach does not give a timetable for reaching each of the phases, but that the timetable would depend on how effective the virus is being suppressed.
The First Minister said: “This virus has not gone away. It continues to pose a significant threat to health and if we move too quickly or without proper care it could become out of control again very quickly and a danger of a second wave later in the year is very real indeed. We mustn’t forget any of that.”
She added that the biggest single factor in controlling the spread of the virus was in how well people observed public health advice, such as hand washing, cough hygiene and continued social distancing and wearing face coverings in enclosed spaces.
“The nature of what we are dealing with means these proposals cannot be set in stone,” she stated. “We’ll conduct formal reviews at least every three weeks to assess if and to what extent we can move from one phase to the next but will we be constantly alive to when we can go faster or whether indeed we have gone too far. It maybe we can’t do everything in a particular phase at the same time, a single phase may expand more than one review period.”
Sturgeon warned of the potential for a second wave of the virus later this year and underlined a need to balance individual freedom and collective responsibility as restrictions are released.
“These restrictions have been absolutely necessary to mitigate the massive harm caused by the Covid 19 virus. However, the lockdown is creating harms of its own. Loneliness and social isolation, deepening inequalities and serious damage to our economy….None of us want it to last any longer than it has to,” she said.
She added that the steps the Scottish Government were taking were “gradual and incremental” and would be matched with ‘rigorous and ongoing” monitoring of the virus.
“There is no completely risk free way of lifting lockdown,” she warned. “We must mitigate the risks as much as we can and we must not at any stage act rashly or recklessly.”
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In phase one of the easing – likely to begin shortly after the next lockdown review date of 28 May she said more outdoor activity would be permitted such as golf, tennis, bowls and fishing though social distancing would have to be complied with. She added that people will also been allowed to meet one person from another household outdoors. She went onto say that waste and recycling, forestry and agriculture and work in the construction industry could also begin again.
On schools reopening, she said an agreed position had been reached to build confidence in the sector. The FM stated that from 11 August all school would reopen with pupils following a blended model with learning at home and part time lessons at school. To applause from the chamber she said I “thank children from the bottom of heart” for living under the lockdown restrictions.
Sturgeon added: “To reflect the fact that children will still be doing part of their learning at home, we are going to invest a further £30 million to provide laptops for disadvantaged children and young people to study online.”
The First Minister said lockdown could be eased as the latest estimate of the reproduction rate – or R number – for the virus, remained between 0.7 and one. She said that in March, the R number was estimated to have been four but cautioned that there is still uncertainty about just how far below one it is.
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Sturgeon said the route map the Scottish Government was publishing was based on guidance set out by the World Health Organisation, as well as the experience of other countries as they have eased their lockdown, combined with “what we have learned about the impact of Covid-19 in Scotland”.
Responding to the First Minister’s statement, the Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw welcomed some of the exit strategy but said that every phase of the easing would be dependent on an adequate test, trace and isolate system being in place.
“We all want to exit lockdown as soon and as safely as possible, for the sake of the economy and for the physical and mental health of the nation. And while many of the plans outlined today are welcome and give cause for optimism, they will only succeed if the SNP get testing absolutely right,” he said.
“Unfortunately, failings on testing so far have been the weakest aspect of this SNP government response to the coronavirus crisis. Tens of thousands of tests have gone unused and there have been major problems in getting tests to the vulnerable people who need them most, and those who work with them.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard backed the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions but had concerns about the economy.
He said: “It is clear to my party that we need a plan for the economy that starts with a plan for a return to work on a sector by sector basis, which is strategic, thought through, and safe, rather than an arbitrary ‘if you can’t work from home go out to work’ message.
“We are facing a massive rise in unemployment, the potential collapse of town centres, night-time economies going bust. And there are looming worries about the gap in public finances, and about not just present but future job losses.”