Sturgeon: Lockdown must be continued at this stage

The First Minister said there could be some easing on the amount of daily exercise people are allowed.

The coronavirus lockdown “must be extended at this stage”, the First Minister has said, despite reports suggesting the UK Government plans to ease a number of the measures.

Nicola Sturgeon said media reports about lifting some lockdown restrictions had not yet been discussed between the UK and devolved governments, although she said the Prime Minister has requested a call.

She said the level of infections, and Covid-19’s reproduction number, means it would not be safe to lift the lockdown “for now”.

The FM insisted she “would not be pressurised” into lifting measures prematurely and risking a second spike of the virus.

But one area the Scottish Government is considering easing measures is on allowing more than one session of daily exercise per day, the First Minister added.

The measures are to be reviewed UK-wide later on Thursday – which happens every three weeks – meaning the next review would be May 28.

UK press reports suggest changes to be proposed by Boris Johnson could include unlimited exercise, the return of some sports, park picnics, and the opening of pub and cafe gardens – but people would still be required to remain two metres apart.

They also say the UK Government intends to scrap the “stay at home” slogan and encourage people to wear face coverings on public transport and in crowded places as some return to work.

The Prime Minister is set to make an address to the nation on Sunday, with it being reported that some restrictions could be eased as early as Monday.

But speaking after the First Minister’s briefing on Thursday, Downing Street stressed any easing of the lockdown will be “very limited”.

Sturgeon said easing measures in England would be the Prime Minister’s “right” but cautioned that some of the reported proposals could be dangerous.

The First Minister also said that despite the three-week period between reviews of the lockdown, regulations could still be changed during that time.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing, she said: “Our assessment of the evidence leads me to the conclusion that the lockdown must be extended at this stage.”

Sturgeon added: “The decisions we take now are a matter of life and death and that is why they weigh so heavily.”

The FM said “media reports” over the easing of lockdown measures have not been discussed with the Scottish Government but a call with the devolved nations will take place later.

But she warned: “I will not be pressured into lifting measures prematurely,” adding that she strongly believes that to drop the “clear, well understood” stay at home message could be a “potentially catastrophic mistake”.

Speaking about why she believed the lockdown needed to be continued, Sturgeon said while “really significant progress” was being made in curbing coronavirus, the situation “remains fragile”.

The First Minister said: “There are still significant numbers of people in Scotland infected with this virus and we’re not yet confident that the all-important R number is comfortably below one.”

The R number measures the number of people that each person with coronavirus infects with the disease, with Sturgeon saying this “could still be hovering around one just now”.

And she added this “means that any significant easing up of restrictions at this stage would be very, very risky indeed”.

There are also suggestions the R number in Scotland could be a “bit higher” than other parts of the UK, Sturgeon said, “perhaps reflecting the fact that our first cases came later than England so we might be at a different and slightly later stage of the infection”.

She insisted that “extreme caution” was required at this “critical juncture”.

Before restrictions could be lifted, she said the Scottish Government wanted to see data confirming “a very clear downward trend” in infections and the infection rate.

The lockdown restrictions will be reviewed again in three weeks’ time, the First Minister said, but added: “We can make changes to the regulations before then if the evidence suggests it is safe to do so.”

She said the reports that the PM is to announce changes to lockdown on Sunday “have not yet been discussed with the Scottish Government or as far as I know with the other devolved governments”.

Sturgeon added: “If and when those discussions do take place I will make very clear, as I have all along that it is my preference, if possible, for all four UK nations to make changes together at the same pace.

“That certainly helps us give clear consistent messages to you the public.

“However for that approach to work we must agree to make changes only when all four governments are satisfied we don’t risk a resurgence of the virus.”

She continued: “If the Prime Minister decides that he wants to move at a faster pace for England than I consider is right for Scotland, that is his right, I will respect that and I will not criticise him for doing that.”

The First Minister said she “may” be prepared “in the immediate future” to agree to a change in guidance only allowing people out for exercise once a day.

But Sturgeon added: “The other possible changes that are reported in the media, such as encouraging more people back to work now, opening beer gardens, or encouraging more use of public transport, would not in my judgment be safe for us to make yet.”

She said: “What I do not want a few weeks from now is for us to see a resurgence of this virus, and for you to be asking me ‘why on earth did you start to ease lockdown a week or a couple of weeks too early?’”

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said easing of lockdown guidelines next week will be “very limited” and the government has adopted a four-nation approach where the UK nations should exit the lockdown at the same time.

He said Johnson told his Cabinet at a meeting on Thursday morning that nothing would be done which risked a second peak in the outbreak.

The spokesman added: “We will advance with maximum caution in order to protect the NHS and save lives.

“We will be guided at every step by the science and the data and we will closely track the impact of any easing of the social distancing measures and will not hesitate to tighten the rules if required.”

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