Nicola Sturgeon has admitted having “butterflies in my stomach” over lifting most of the legal coronavirus restrictions in Scotland.
The First Minister confirmed last week that the country would move beyond level zero, which has brought an end to the legal requirements for physical distancing – except in healthcare settings – and gatherings.
All venues are now able to reopen – including nightclubs, as many did when the clock struck a minute past midnight on Monday.
Hours after revellers partied for the first time in months, Sturgeon told Good Morning Britain: “I think there’s always going to be nervousness when we lift restrictions after such a long period.
“I have to be honest that there’s some butterflies in my stomach about it today, but I think it’s the right moment to do this.
“We see daily fluctuations in our case numbers but the trend is downwards, and of course the vaccine is giving significant protection.
“So this is the right moment to remove legal restrictions to try to get that greater normality back in our lives, but with a big caveat that the virus hasn’t gone away, the pandemic is not over.
“I think it’s premature to declare victory over it or freedom from it, we’ve got to continue to be careful, which is why in Scotland we’re keeping some sensible precautions in place – for example, face coverings in many indoor settings – so it’s a moment to feel optimistic.
“This has been a long, hard year-and-a-half, but we’ve got to continue to exercise care and caution – this virus is unpredictable, and I think it’s true that we under-estimate it at our peril.”
Sturgeon also argued that the more gradual easing of restrictions has helped the cautious approach to Covid-19 north of the border as children return to school in the coming weeks.
Secondary school pupils are among those who will have to continue wearing face coverings in the classroom for at least the first six weeks of term.
The First Minister added: “We will be monitoring that carefully and we will not keep that requirement in place for any longer than necessary.
“People sometimes ask me just now ‘Why do young people still need to wear face coverings in schools when there are some other settings where that’s not required?’ – of course, young people for now remain unvaccinated, although we’re starting to vaccinate 16 and 17-year-olds.
“And, unlike nightclubs, which are places that people have a choice over whether or not they go to, that’s not the case with schools.
“There’s something quite unique about the school setting… so keeping some basic precautions there for a bit longer as schools return strikes me as sensible – it’s certainly the clinical advice I’ve got.”
However, when speaking on BBC Breakfast on Monday morning, Ms Sturgeon was challenged over whether she could guarantee no further lockdowns.
She replied: “I think any politician, anywhere in the world, in the face of a pandemic of an infectious virus that sits here and says ‘I can guarantee something’ is not being sensible and actually it’s not being frank with people.
“Every fibre of my being hopes that the restrictions we are lifting today in Scotland will never, ever have to be imposed, and am I optimistic about that? Yes.
“Can I guarantee it? Well, I could tell you that right now for the sake of an easier interview, but it wouldn’t be the right thing to say because keeping this virus under control depends on all of us continuing to do all of the sensible things I’ve been talking about.
“We also know that this is a virus that has already mutated, new variants continue to be our biggest threat, so we’ve got to be careful and we’ve got to be realistic.
“But I very much hope that all of that, coupled, of course, principally with the power of vaccination, will mean that never again do we have to face lockdowns.”