Nicola Sturgeon today unveiled a lockdown exit roadmap for Scotland which will see the stay at home rule lifted and the return of some non-essential shops on April 5.
The Scottish First Minister said her ‘deliberately cautious’ plan will start with more pupils heading back to classrooms on March 15 after a limited reopening of schools this week.
April 5 will then see all remaining pupils return to school as well as communal worship being allowed to restart.
The definition of ‘essential’ retail will also be changed at this point to allow more shops to reopen – one week earlier than the return of all retail in England which is earmarked to take place from April 12.
However, Scotland will have to wait until April 26 for a more substantial easing of rules when the nation will return to a tier system of restrictions.
Initially the aim is for all parts of the country to move into level three at that point before then moving down the levels based on infection rates and the rate of transmission.
Ms Sturgeon said the coronavirus situation in Scotland is ‘still quite precarious’ as she urged the country to be ‘cautious, careful and patient’.
The unveiling of the lockdown roadmap for Scotland comes one day after Boris Johnson set out his strategy for England.
One major difference between the two is that Scotland will return to a system of geographic levels while England will exit lockdown as a whole and will not be going back to tiers.
Ms Sturgeon said overnight that Scotland ‘cannot continue in lockdown indefinitely and we must plan a gradual phased return to as much normality as possible’.
Ms Sturgeon’s plan for easing coronavirus restrictions in Scotland was unveiled one day after Boris Johnson published his roadmap for England
The old levels system in Scotland was split into five different tiers, ranging from Level 0 to Level 4.
Areas in Level 4 were subject to restrictions close to that of a full lockdown, with non-essential shops closed while six people from two households could meet outdoors.
Level 0 was as close to normal life as possible, with people allowed to meet indoors with eight people from three households and businesses allowed to open with safety measures in place.
Ms Sturgeon said the vaccination drive will eventually allow a significant easing of rules but until that point restrictions will have to be released slowly.
Confirming the return to tiers, she said: ‘As I have already emphasised, the strategic framework is deliberately cautious at this stage but I want to be clear that in the coming weeks if the data allows and positive trends continue we will seek to accelerate the easing of the restrictions.
‘However, the framework today provides detail on what as of now we expect our next changes to be.
‘Firstly it confirms that if all goes according to plan we will move fully back to a levels system from the last week in April.
‘At that stage we hope that all parts of the country currently in level four will be able to move out of level four and back initially to level three, possibly with some revision to the content of the levels and afterwards to levels dependent on incidence and prevalence of the virus at that time.’
She added: ‘It is therefore from the last week of April that we would expect to see phased but significant reopening of the economy, including non-essential retail, hospitality and services like gyms and hairdressers.’
Ms Sturgeon’s plan for loosening restrictions prioritises the return of children to education, sports activities for young people and limited social interaction for adults.
‘We know we cannot continue in lockdown indefinitely and we must plan a gradual phased return to as much normality as possible,’ she said overnight.
‘The restrictions we have put in place are difficult for individuals, families and businesses across Scotland, but they are working – case numbers have decreased, the numbers of people in hospital and needing intensive care are coming down and we are now seeing fewer vulnerable people dying from this horrible illness.
‘This means we can begin to consider how, carefully and gradually, we can return to some normality in Scotland.
‘A limited number of children and young people were able to return to school yesterday and we have prioritised this because children’s education and wellbeing is such an overriding priority.
‘Of course, this has only been possible because people across Scotland have worked together and made sacrifices to bring down levels of Covid-19.
‘We hope that more children will be able to return to school later in March.
‘And we have published new guidance to enable an easing of restrictions on care home visiting from early March.
‘Beyond that, giving people the ability to meet loved ones, initially outdoors, is a priority for easing restrictions within the current level 4.’
Ms Sturgeon said the economy will be opened up when Scotland is able to ‘move back to a levels approach, with all or part of the country moving down a level’.
‘The strategic framework sets out as far as possible at this stage how we will approach the gradual easing of restrictions,’ she said.
‘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.’
The plan sets out an indicative order of priority and proposed phases – with periods of at least three weeks between them – to ease current Level 4 restrictions and then return to the geographic levels system.