NICOLA Sturgeon has said she hopes to lift the “stay at home” restriction from April 5 as she set out her exit plan for the lockdown.
The First Minister told MSPs that Scotland will move fully back into the tiered system from the last week in April “if all goes according to plan” – with a hope all areas can move straight into a revised level 3.
But opponents have labelled the announcement a “holding plan”, accusing the Scottish Government of not giving the public”a plan to get back to normality”.
Phases of easing restrictions further will take place at a minimum of three week intervals – while Ms Sturgeon said that from the end of April, there will be a “phased but significant re-opening of the economy including non-essential retail, hospitality and services like gyms and hairdressers”.
She added: “The more of us who are vaccinated and the more we all stick by the rules now, the faster that safe pace is likely to be – if we all stay in this together, our progress will be greater.”
But the First Minister warned that “taking the brakes off too quickly will allow the virus to get ahead of us again and put our progress out of lockdown into reverse”.
She added that travel restrictions currently in place “are also essential and are likely to remain so for some time yet”.
She added that currently “we need to rely very heavily on restrictions to suppress the virus” but once more people have received their first dose of the vaccine, with a target date of mid-July for all adults, “we do hope that vaccination will become our main tool for suppression”.
While Ms Sturgeon said she hoped to give “as much clarity as possible”, she added she wanted to avoid “giving false assurance or picking arbitrary dates that have no grounding at this stage in any objective assessment”.
She added: “I am as confident as I can be that the indicative, staged timetable that I have set out today – from now until late April when the economy will start to substantially reopen – is a reasonable one.
“And in mid-March – when we have made further progress on vaccines and have greater understanding of the impact of the initial phase of school return – I hope we can set out then more detail of the further reopening that will take place over April and May and into a summer when we hope to be living with much greater freedoms than we are today.”
From March 15 at the earliest, a further return for additional schoolchildren will take place and four people from two households will be allowed to meet up outdoors.
The next phase will take place at least three weeks later when the stay at home restriction will be lifted, click and collected for non-essential retail will be re-introduced and the essential retail list will be expanded.
By the last week in April, Ms Sturgeon said that “we hope that all parts of the country currently in level 4 – will be able to move out of level 4 and back initially to level 3” of the Scottish Government’s tiered strategy, “possibly with some revision to the content of the levels”.
She added: “The advantages of the levels system of course is that it will allow us to let some parts of the country move faster than others, if the data supports that.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “It is important to stress, of course, that all of this depends on us continuing to suppress the virus now – and continuing to accept some trade-offs for a period, for example on international travel.
“However, if we do so, I am optimistic that we can make good progress in returning more normality to our lives and the economy.
“I know this is still a cautious approach which though absolutely essential to control the virus and protect health, is extremely difficult for many businesses.”
In the revised strategic framework published by the Scottish Government, it states “we envisage that the current requirement to stay at home, unless you have a reasonable excuse for leaving, will be in place until at least early April so that we can create sufficient headroom to get more young people back to school”.
But the Scottish Conservatives have claimed there is not enough detail for people to understand when restrictions will be lifted.
The party’s Holyrood leader, Ruth Davidson said people “didn’t tune in today expecting to be told to tune in again in three weeks’ time” after the First Minister delayed the publication of a routemap until mid-March.
She said: “This statement fell short of public expectations.
“We didn’t get information about when measures like social distancing will end and when we will be able to do something as basic as give a loved one a hug.
“Everyone understands that we might not be able to give people absolute certainty – but they were at least expecting the First Minister to give them some kind of hope.
“Nothing has been published about what happens after April 26. This isn’t a routemap out of Covid, it is holding document.
“People didn’t tune in today expecting to be told to tune in again in three weeks’ time. They have a right to be disappointed that Nicola Sturgeon is not giving them a plan to get back to normality.”
Scottish Labour interim leader, Jackie Baillie, warned that the strategy lacks clarity on its “ultimate goal” and claimed the plan doesn’t put enough emphasis in testing and tracing.
She said: “Most people make the reasonable assumption that once you’ve had your vaccination, particularly the second dose, that you are effectively good to go but the reality is that you can still get Covid, but hopefully in a much milder form and avoiding hospitalisation.
“That means that testing is critically important so that we can quickly identify and contain any future outbreaks. So will the First Minister issue a revised testing strategy that includes mass community testing where appropriate to do so?
“And finally, I want to be optimistic and I am equally patient, but can I ask the First Minister what the ultimate goal is? Because I think it is important the people understand what lies ahead.
“Is it suppression of the virus, using testing, tracing and vaccination but accepting that there is some risk as we do with flu each year? Or is it elimination with zero Covid and the prospect of continuing restrictions over a longer period – including further lockdown?”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie added: “There is a broad consensus in the country on the caution required and we must never forget that there are many harms like mental health and education, not just covid, which is why we need to move to ease as soon as we can without allowing the virus to get out of control again.
“The measures today are broadly similar to those early measures announced by Boris Johnson on Monday with an earlier, if phased, easing on schools and two-person outdoor limit and a slightly later easing on shops. I agree with that approach.”