Face masks to remain in Scotland as new Covid cases continue to soar

The wearing of face masks in Scotland still required by law on public transport and in certain indoor settings.

People will still need to wear face coverings on public transport and in certain indoor settings beyond March 21, Nicola Sturgeon said on Tuesday.

The First Minister said face coverings were being retained for a further two weeks as a “temporary, precautionary exception” to the lifting of all remaining legal Covid restrictions in Scotland.

The wearing of face masks will be reviewed again by ministers before the Easter holidays, with Sturgeon saying she expects the regulation will convert into guidance in early April.

Addressing MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, she said: “Given the current spike in case numbers, we consider it prudent to retain this requirement in regulation for a further short period.

“I know this will be disappointing for businesses and service providers such as day care services.

“However, ensuring continued widespread use of face coverings will provide some additional protection – particularly for the most vulnerable – at a time when the risk of infection is very high, and it may help us get over this spike more quickly.

“We will review it again in two weeks – before Easter recess – and our expectation now is that this regulation will convert to guidance in early April.”

Scotland reported 38,770 new cases on Tuesday – the cumulative total for the past four days due to server problems at Public Health Scotland.

The total number of new cases for the equivalent four-day period last week was 36,051.

Furthermore, three weeks ago, an average of 6900 new cases a day were being reported. The average now is just over 12,000 a day.

There has also been a rise in the number of people who are in hospital with Covid.

Three weeks ago, that number stood at 1060. But there were 1996 people in hospital with recently confirmed Covid-19 on Monday, up 191 on the previous day.

There were 1,996 people in hospital on Monday with recently confirmed Covid-19, up 191 on the previous day, with 33 in intensive care, up six.

Sturgeon said the rise in cases was being driven by the BA.2 sublineage of the Omicron variant, which is estimated to be significantly more transmissible – with a growth rate since mid-February perhaps 80% greater than original Omicron.

“BA.2 is now our dominant strain, accounting for more than 80% of all reported cases. BA.2 has become dominant in Scotland earlier than in England and Wales, hence the more rapid increase in cases here than south of the border in recent weeks – although cases and hospital admissions are now rising sharply again in England too.”

“Encouragingly, there is no evidence that BA.2 causes more severe illness than BA.1, or that it is more effective at evading natural or vaccine immunity.

“Indeed, immune protection means that the recent rise in cases and hospital admissions has not translated into a commensurate increase in cases of severe illness requiring intensive care.”

However, despite the current spike, more restrictions are being lifted including the requirement for businesses and service providers to retain customer contact details.

All remaining Covid-related travel restrictions are also being lifted on a UK four-nations basis. Travellers arriving in Scotland will no longer need to complete a passenger locator before they arrive.

People who are not fully vaccinated will not have to take Covid tests before and after travelling to the UK.

In terms of testing, Sturgeon said people experiencing Covid symptoms still need to take a test at least until the end of April – in contrast to England, where the require to test will be removed from the end of March.

From April 18, the Scottish Government will no longer advise people without symptoms to test twice weekly – for workplaces, early learning and childcare settings, mainstream and special schools, and universities and colleges.

People working in health and care settings will still need to test twice weekly.

“Regrettably, our freedom of manoeuvre here is severely limited by the fact that our funding is determined by UK Government decisions taken for England,” said Sturgeon.

“However, we have sought as far as we can to reach the right decisions for Scotland. It is important to note that we are aiming for the same long-term position as England on testing. However, we consider that the transition should be longer.”

The Scottish Government is also continuing to advise those with symptoms to get a PCR test until the end of April.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “It’s true that case rates are higher at the moment than any of us would like but Covid cases were always going to rise as restrictions were eased

“We can’t get complacent with Covid but we have to move forward. We can’t stay stuck with Covid rules forever – that’s why it will be a blow for households and businesses that the First Minister has decided to keep the face mask rules in place.

“The Government said last month these would be removed on March 21 but now that’s been delayed. Why won’t the First Minister trust the Scottish public to take the steps they think are right to protect themselves and their families?

“And why are we back to this wait and see approach again, with no firm date to allow businesses and the public to plan ahead – the First Minister said she would report to Parliament again before the Easter recess but there is no guarantee that a positive announcement will be made then.”

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