SCOTLAND is set to be put back into a local tiered system of restrictions – as Boris Johnson unveiled a “one way road to freedom” with a four-stage plan that could see restrictions in England completely lifted by the summer.
Nicola Sturgeon will this afternoon announce her blueprint for gradually easing level 4 lockdown restrictions which have been in place across Scotland since January – before returning to the tiered approach that could see different parts of the country ease the lockdown at different paces.
The First Minister said that her strategy will be “broadly similar” to the approach announced by Mr Johnson for England yesterday – but she indicated that she will not be confirming hard dates on when different parts of daily life will return to normal.
She suggested that people meeting up with loved ones again will be prioritised over re-opening the economy – while Deputy First Minister John Swinney said a cautious approach was needed to ensure “this is Scotland’s last lockdown”.
Announcing his plan for England yesterday, the Prime Minister confirmed that all pupils south of the border are expected to return to class from March 8.
Schools in Scotland re-opened for P1 to P3 pupils yesterday, with the First Minister warning that a full return to schools would “send transmissions through the roof again very quickly”.
Meeting loved ones to take priority over economy in lockdown exit
Mr Johnson said socialising in parks and public spaces with one other person will also be permitted from March 8 in England.
A further easing of restrictions will take place three weeks later on March 29 when the school Easter holidays begin with larger groups of up to six people or two households in England allowed to gather in parks and gardens.
Other measures in the Prime Minister’s road map include shops and outdoor hospitality in England re-opening from April 12, two households of up to six people able to mix indoors from May 17 at the earliest and from June 21 at the earliest, all remaining restrictions on social contact could be lifted, larger events can go ahead and nightclubs could finally reopen.
Ms Sturgeon said that she will set out “an indicative order of priority and the likely phasing” of lifting the current lockdown restrictions before “in due course, a return to the geographic levels system when we would decide whether all or parts of the country may move out of level 4 and into level 3”.
The First Minister will announce there will be periods of at least three weeks between proposed phases.
She said: “As we get to a situation where we can move back to a levels approach, with all or part of the country moving down a level, we can start to carefully open the economy again too.
“The strategic framework sets out as far as possible at this stage how we will approach the gradual easing of restrictions. We will be able to give more detail and clarity in the weeks ahead as we make further progress both on suppressing the virus and vaccinating the population, and as we understand more about the impact of vaccination.
“However, to keep moving in the right direction and avoid setbacks caution will be necessary, which is why the framework will be clear about the need to move in a gradual way.”
Scotland’s lockdown exit ‘broadly similar’ to Boris Johnson’s strategy
Speaking at her daily briefing yesterday, Ms Sturgeon warned the public they are “going to have to be patient for some of this”.
She said that the Scottish Government’s “top priorities” are getting children back into classrooms and relaxing care home visiting.
The First Minister added: “Beyond that, I think people want to be able to see their loved ones – that may be outdoors before it is indoors.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has called for assurances over whether a national or local approach will be taken.
He said: “The single most important thing that government can give to businesses and individuals is certainty going forward.
“There needs to be a complete approach to gradually removing restrictions and ending the lockdown. One key question is whether there will be a local or national approach.”
Ahead of Ms Sturgeon setting out her plan for easing the lockdown in Scotland. Labour has called for an improved testing system to play a central role.
The party has appealed for asymptomatic community testing, contingency plans for a surge in cases and doorstep testing if new mutated variants are discovered.
Re-opening schools for all pupils ‘would send transmission through the roof’
Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie said: “Scottish Labour has long made the case that the route through and out of the pandemic will depend on following international advice and hunting down the virus with testing.
“Infection rates are now being driven down by a combination of lockdown measures and the roll out of the vaccine – but keeping infection rates low will depend on rapidly identifying and containing any outbreaks. That is why we are calling for a renewed emphasis on testing – including asymptomatic community testing on a mass scale.
“The SNP Government has so far failed to maximise the use of Scotland’s testing capacity. New announcements on testing of contacts and community testing are welcome – but the roll-out has been far too slow. Weeks after the First Minister announced the government would be expanding testing, there is little urgency about making this a reality on the ground.
“The First Minister and the Health Secretary need to get a grip – testing will be key to helping to control the virus and allowing the economy to open up again.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie also called for testing to be ramped up as part of the exit strategy and demanded “a clear plan for both allowing activities, perhaps outdoor first, to resume and for our NHS to be equipped to deal with the recovery”.