More cautious steps along the routemap out of lockdown

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is hopeful of moving Scotland into phase two next week.

More cautious steps along the routemap out of lockdown

Another briefing and another study in carefully crafted language, a standard Nicola Sturgeon statement rooted in caution that hinted at further lifts in lockdown but all the time stopped short of sending out a message which could be seen as an incitement to unwise behaviour.

And yet for all that the underlying tone is encouraging. Not upbeat but encouraging. The ‘R’ number is falling and is now in the range of 0.6-0.8. It allowed for optimism. “There is no doubt we are making very real progress suppressing the virus in Scotland,” she said.

This time next week the First Minister will take the decision about whether or not to move from phase one to phase two of lifting the restrictions and given that she is now looking at “encouraging data”, she is  “currently very hopeful” of moving to phase two next week.

Like everything with the management of this strategy, it comes with a caveat. The restrictions could be lifted gradually through the ensuing three-week period. It will be a case of moving “cautiously and proportionately”.

Good news today for the construction sector on two fronts. Although conceding that builders will still be a long way from full capacity, the green light to restart workers gradually has been given the go ahead. And the Help-to-Buy scheme, which has helped 17,000 people onto the property ladder, will be extended to March 2022. From these small steps a recovery of sorts will be born.

There is, of course, no exact synchronising of the lifting of measures in the constituent nations of the UK. One issue that is exercising many – including those in the hospitality sector – is the two-metre advice on social distancing. Boris Johnson is under pressure to move to one metre. On that front, Nicola Sturgeon was clear: there will be no change in Scotland.

This, of course, could become an issue of real contention if the rule is different in England and pubs and restaurants find they can accommodate more customers compared to counterparts in Scotland.

Important to stress, however, that is not the case and is not yet on the horizon, but given the lobbying that is going on it cannot be viewed as distant and theoretical.

As we move out of lockdown, the government’s test-and-track strategy takes centre stage. Some further updates today on that front. To June 7, 681 people who reported symptoms had been tested. Contact tracing for 481 of these people had been completed, which involved tracing 741 other individuals.

Next week’s review is required by law and all the signs are that the country will move to phase two. That will then be reviewed three weeks later when a decision will be taken on moving again to phase three. If the current trends continue, moving to phase three looks a real possibility but we are not there yet and any increase in infections will see the brakes slammed on.

As always, the fear of ministers is that the public interprets these small steps as an encouragement to engage in activity which is not permitted. The message remains, with care, discipline and sticking to the rules we will get to a new normal. Then and only then can we embrace that lifestyle we all enjoyed prior to March 23.