Social distancing measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus could be in place for the rest of the year “and maybe beyond”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The First Minister said social distancing will remain a “fact of life” for the foreseeable future but said in time that lockdown measures could be reduced in an “incremental” manner.
Speaking at a daily press briefing in Edinburgh on Thursday, Sturgeon said large gatherings and events are “likely to be off for some months to come”.
Discussing a new Scottish Government paper on how Scotland will remove lockdown regulations, the First Minister said the publication was a “first cut”, designed to start an “adult conversation”.
She added that the “science will never be exact” and ministers will have to make judgments on any measures added or lifted.
Sturgeon said she could not rule out the possibility of re-applying or strengthening lockdown measures if cases of the virus grow.
But the FM said she would be “frank” with the people of Scotland about what the Scottish Government’s thinking is.
She accepted lockdown measures were doing “damage” to Scotland, creating problems in the economy, in education and in living standards.
The lockdown is in place to protect lives, Sturgeon said, but she said a better “balance” will need to be found to protect people from financial and social disruption in the long run.
The First Minister added: “As we do so, we cannot and we must not take our eye off the need to suppress the virus and minimise the damage that it does.
“Continuing to suppress Covid-19 is the central objective that we’ve set out in this paper today.”
She said the lifting of restrictions bring about “the real risk is that Covid-19 runs rampant again”.
“So a return to normal as we knew it is not on the cards in the near future and it’s really important that I am upfront with you about that,” Sturgeon said.
“What we must do is find a new normal, a way of living alongside this virus but in a form that keeps it under control and stops it taking the toll we know it can do.”
The First Minister also said that the reproduction rate of the virus must be kept below one, with best estimates putting the figures “somewhere between 0.6 and one”.
This relates to how many people are being infected by individuals with coronavirus, with Sturgeon estimating that prior to the lockdown, people with Covid-19 were infecting an average of around three others.
Until a vaccine or effective treatments are available, some form of social distancing in society will be a “fact of life”, the FM said.
“That means, possibly for the rest of this year and maybe even beyond,” she continued.
“That’s why talking about lifting lockdown as if it’s a ‘flick of the switch moment’, is misguided.
“Our steps, when we take them, will need to be careful, gradual, incremental and probably quite small to start with.
“We’ll need to assess them in advance and monitor them in action – sometimes, as I said a moment ago, we may even have to reverse things.”
The First Minister described the lockdown measures as “the toughest set of circumstances that the vast majority of us have ever lived through”.
She added: “I can’t stand here and promise you that it’s going to get a whole lot easier soon.
“But as I hope we have started to set out today, if we keep doing the right things and if we consider all of the options carefully and with the right objectives in mind, I do believe there will be a way through and we will find that way through.”
The First Minister also urged Scots to “engage with this discussion”.