Easing of lockdown begins on Friday, confirms Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon said she is satisfied the first phase of the four-stage route map out of lockdown can start.

You will be allowed to meet people from one other household outdoors and play sports like golf and tennis from Friday as the gradual route out of lockdown begins in Scotland.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed she is satisfied the first phase of the Scottish Government’s four-stage plan to ease restrictions can begin safely.

It means, from Friday, people will be allowed to go outside as much as they like, sit in parks and other public spaces and sunbathe.

They can meet people from one other household at a time, provided the meeting is outside and they socially distance from each other.

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That includes in public areas like a park or a private garden, but the total number of people meeting up should be a maximum of eight.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing on Thursday, the First Minister admitted she was “nervous” about lifting some of the lockdown restrictions, which she said is being done in a “careful and cautious” way.

But she said there were “sustained and unmistakable” downward trends now in deaths, hospital admissions and confirmed cases, with officials “reasonably” confident the virus’ reproduction rate – or R number – has been under one for more than three weeks.

The FM described this progress as “real but fragile”, adding: “The virus is still proving fatal for too many.”

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It comes as another 12 people in Scotland with the virus are confirmed to have died, taking the death toll including suspected Covid-19 cases to 3825.

There have been 48 confirmed cases of the virus reported overnight – the sixth straight day new daily cases have been under 100.

That takes total cases since the outbreak began to 15,288 in Scotland, although this is believed to be a significant underestimate.

Sturgeon said officials estimate there are around 19,000 infections in Scotland as of last week, down from the estimate of 25,000 a week before.

Meanwhile, hospital admissions of patients with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 fell by nine from Wednesday to 1238 – of those, 37 are in intensive care, down one.

And a total of 3635 people hospitalised with the virus since March 5 have been able to go home.

The First Minister warned Scots planning barbecues and picnics at the weekend not to share cutlery, plates or cups with other households as a precaution against Covid-19.

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Sturgeon also stressed you should not go into anyone else’s house or meet people from other households indoors.

She said: “Do not use somebody else’s bathroom.

“If you go inside a house…that is when you are creating a bridge for the virus to spread.”

Non-contact outdoor sports and activities like golf, tennis, bowls and fishing will be permitted provided social distancing and good hygiene is observed.

You will also be able to travel, preferably by walking or cycling, to a place in your local area for recreation.

A legal limit will not be put on how far people will be allowed to travel but the First Minister said the “strong advice” of the Scottish Government was to stay within five miles.

She added: “We simply don’t want, in this phase, large numbers of people at tourist hotspots or beauty spots.

“Crowds of people, even if they’re trying to social distance, bring more risk than we judge is acceptable at this point.”

Garden centres have been given the go-ahead to reopen along with drive-through food and drink outlets, while construction firms can begin site preparation.

Sturgeon thanked Scots for observing the lockdown to date, adding: “The only reason we can make any changes today is because we have made progress in tackling this virus.”

She urged the public to continue to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 by keeping two metres apart from people not in their households, observing good cough and hand hygiene and wearing face coverings in shops and on public transport.

The FM said at the briefing: “I know how much all of you, all of us, will be looking forward to seeing family and friends for the first time in a while, but how we do this will be vital.

“Before you meet up with people from another household, you should stop, think, read the guidance and make sure you’re protecting yourself and others.

“In particular, you must stay outdoors and stay two metres away from people from the other household – that is crucial.”

The First Minister told those who had been asked to shield for 12 weeks due to an underlying health condition that they have “not been forgotten”, adding that measures were being drawn up to move to “less of a blanket approach” that reflects the circumstances of the individual.

It comes as Scotland’s “test and protect” scheme was launched on Thursday, designed to test, trace and isolate all suspected coronavirus cases.

If you develop Covid-19 symptoms – a persistent new cough, a fever or a loss of smell or taste – you should book a test immediately through the NHS Inform website or by calling NHS 24 on 0800 028 2816.

You and your household will be asked to self-isolate until you get your test result – within 24, or possibly 48, hours – and if you test negative you no longer have to quarantine.

If you test positive, you must stay at home for seven days and the other members of your household for 14 days, and all your recent contacts will be traced – who must also self-isolate for a fortnight.

The mass testing regime is designed to support the easing of lockdown restrictions and deal quickly with any new pockets of infections.

The First Minister said: “’Test and protect’ will be a crucial part of our efforts to control this virus in the weeks ahead, but it will not do it on its own.”

She added: “No changes are risk-free and there are no certainties in any of this, but I’ve also said that I wanted to make sure that with every step we do take then the ground beneath our feet is as solid as possible, and that’s what we are taking care to ensure.

“I don’t mind admitting to you that, as we take these first steps, I do feel a bit nervous.

“I worry that the limited changes that we’re making to these rules might lead to much greater change in reality and so I really need your help to make sure that is not the case.”

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