Sturgeon defends pace of easing lockdown amid jobs slump

The FM said lifting restrictions too quickly risks a second wave which would be 'economically counterproductive'.

The First Minister has defended the pace at which the country is easing lockdown after new labour market figures showed Scotland has the highest jobless rate in the UK.

Commenting on the latest jobs figures, Nicola Sturgeon said the fight against Covid-19 has “created an economic crisis which demands our full focus and attention”.

But she stressed that while she understands the desire to restore the economy as soon as possible, doing it too quickly could risk a second coronavirus wave which would be “economically counterproductive”.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published on Tuesday showed that between February and April the unemployment rate in Scotland rose from 3.5% to 4.6%.

It represents an increase of 30,000 to 127,000 over the first five weeks of lockdown, as the coronavirus-related restrictions affected the labour market.

The 4.6% figure in Scotland compares against a UK unemployment rate of 3.9%.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing on Tuesday, the First Minister said mitigating factors like the UK-wide furlough scheme meant jobless figures were likely an underestimate.

But she insisted Scotland should remain cautious in its easing of lockdown measures, with the country likely to enter phase two of its four-stage plan at the end of this week.

The First Minister said: “Difficult though all of this is, we must guard against a reckless relaxation of lockdown measures.

“If we ease measures too quickly and allow the virus to run out of control again, that would be economically counterproductive, but would also cost many more lives.”

It comes as five more people have died with Covid-19 in the last day, taking the Scottish death toll including suspected coronavirus deaths to 4038.

There are 15 new confirmed cases of the virus in the last 24 hours, taking Scotland’s total over the pandemic to 18,045.

A total of 986 people are in hospital with Covid or Covid symptoms, a rise of 116, but the number confirmed to have coronavirus has fallen by 11.

There are 19 patients in intensive care with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, a rise of one on Monday.

Since the pandemic began, 3929 Scots who were hospitalised with the virus have been able to go home to continue their recovery.

Phase two should allow for the reopening of small retailers, outdoor markets, beer gardens and restaurants and cafes with outdoor areas, potentially as early as this Friday.

People working in non-office indoor spaces like factories, warehouses or labs should also be able to resume work, although Sturgeon stressed not all phase two measures would necessarily begin straight away.

In England, all shops have been permitted to reopen with strict safety measures in place, along with zoos, safari parks and drive-in cinemas.

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