Scotland to move to lowest lockdown level but face coverings and one-metre distancing will remain

Coronavirus restrictions are to ease in Scotland on Monday as Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the country will move to Level 0 of lockdown measures, with some changes to original plans.

The First Minister briefed MSPs in a virtual setting of the Scottish Parliament, which was recalled from its summer recess for the update.

She said the success of the vaccination programme meant restrictions could be eased as planned next week, but with some modifications.

Under the Level 0 rules, social distancing will be reduced to one metre inside public places.

Indoor gathering restrictions in homes will be lifted to allow up to eight people from up to four households to meet.

Ten people from four households can meet in a public indoor space – such as a pub or restaurant – and up to 15 people from up to 15 households can meet outdoors.

But some planned changes will not go ahead.

Ms Sturgeon said “for the next three weeks at least, there will be a requirement for one-metre distancing between different groups of 15” outdoors, despite plans to scrap the restriction entirely.

The 11pm closure time for pubs operating indoors will be changed to midnight – a change from original plans to scrap the limit entirely.

The planned “gradual return to the office” will also be postponed until August 9.

Scotland plans to move beyond Level 0 on that date.

But Ms Sturgeon said the requirement to wear face coverings will remain.

There are also no plans for the return of nightclubs and adult entertainment.

The central belt of Scotland is currently in Level 2 of measures, with the rest of the mainland in Level 1 and most of the islands in Level 0.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs the changes to original plans for easing were necessary “in light of the challenge we continue to face from the Delta variant”.

The latest statistics for Scotland show four coronavirus deaths and 2,529 new cases were recorded in the past 24 hours.

“I will confirm that certain mitigations – such as the mandatory wearing of face coverings – will remain in place, not just now but, in all likelihood, for some time to come,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“Measures like the continued wearing of face coverings are important, not just to give added protection to the population as a whole, but also to give protection and assurance to those amongst us who are particularly vulnerable and previously had to shield.”

She said Scotland must not treat young people “as an experiment” when it comes to long Covid and expressed concern at pressure on the NHS from a recent rise in hospital cases.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have said face masks will not be mandatory in England and instead their wearing will be dependent on individual choice.

But the First Minister stressed: “It is my view that if government believes measures like this matter – and we do – we should say so, do what is necessary to ensure compliance, and take any resulting flak from those who disagree.

“We shouldn’t lift important restrictions to make our lives easier and then expect the public to take responsibility for doing the right thing anyway.”

Ahead of the announcement, Edinburgh University professor of public health Linda Bauld stressed a cautious approach was needed.

Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme, she said: “What the Scottish Government will want to avoid is what is happening in Europe now.

“The Netherlands has seen an over 700% increase in cases. They’ve had to close nightclubs again, put restrictions on bars and restaurants, they’ve had to cancel mass events.

“I think the Scottish Government will want to continue to move forward, but Level 0 is not a huge jump, it’s a relatively modest jump to the next stage.”

Meanwhile, another public health specialist urged the First Minister to keep the current restrictions in place for longer.

Professor Andrew Watterson, of Stirling University, said too few people currently had the protection of both vaccine doses.

He told the Times: “For this to be irreversible, it’s got to be cautious.

“We must rule nothing out and I’ve been very, very clear about that.

“We must protect the public and we will not hesitate to use the means that we have at our disposal.”

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