Key dates in Scotland’s exit from lockdown have been revealed under the FM’s roadmap.
With the number of vaccinated people in the UK nudging 18 million, the R rate falling nationwide, today is finally the day we learned how our exit from Scotland’s latest lockdown will unfold. Unveiling her “cautious” lockdown ‘roadmap’ to Holyrood this afternoon, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed that lockdown restrictions will potentially begin to ease some restrictions from March 15, and that six tools will be used to achieve the unravelling of restrictions, which will be rolled out step by step across Scotland.
The six tools are as follows:
- The quickest practical roll-out of the vaccination programme
- The most effective use of Test and Protect
- Applying proportionate protective measures (rules and guidance) to suppress transmission of the virus
- Effective measures to manage the risk of importation of the virus
- Supporting individuals, businesses and organisations to adhere to protective measures
- Providing care and support to mitigate the harms of the crisis
In her statement to the Scottish Parliament, she said: “At the moment, and for a bit longer, we need to rely very heavily on restrictions to suppress the virus. This is essential when it is so transmissible, and when case numbers are still quite high.
“But in time – once the vast majority of the adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine – we do hope that vaccination will become our main tool for suppressing the virus.”
The Strategic Framework, involving five levels (o-4), adopted last year as Scotland emerged from the first lockdown will continue but may see some changes. Steps will unfold at least three weeks apart, in order to see the impact that loosening restrictions will have upon the infection rates. The Scottish government has stated that the roadmap will be guided by the data in order to move from one step to the next. Outdoor activities (which the evidence suggests are safer) will return before indoor ones, with outdoor socialising in line as the first major step in the easing. Here’s how the easing will unfold, phase by phase/month-by-month.
First phase of return to schools. This week saw the return of the youngest school pupils (P1 to P3 and those at pre-school). In addition, senior phase pupils will make a part-time return, on a very limited basis, to allow them to complete national qualification courses.
Care home residents will be allowed two regular visitors per week. A vital concession for older people living in care homes, loosening this restriction will allow family members and friends to visit and hold hands.
Next phase of return to schools. This has long been earmarked as the first lockdown restriction to be eased, and will see pupils in all primary year groups returning to school as part of a phased return. there will also be a phased return of a further small number of priority students for in-person learning at universities and colleges. However, the government is still to consider how this would fit in to Easter holidays.
Outdoor gatherings of two households permitted.
March 15 is also poised to be the day that we can begin to safely reunite with our loved ones. Socialising with another household totalling up to four people will be permitted to return on this date, meaning that we’ll be able to sit on a park bench or have a picnic with up to three other people who are from one other household. Whilst exercising with one person from another household was previously permitted, the new rules will allow us more of a relaxing catch-up.
The third stage will lift the stay at home restrictions, meaning we will see more freedoms. However, the First Minister intends to keep some travel restrictions in place in order to help reduce transmission of the virus.
Outdoor gatherings of six people from two households permitted. More restrictions will be eased in April, and the crucial one is allowing larger groups of people to meet outside in parks and private gardens. Gatherings will be capped at six people from two households – marking the return of last year’s ‘Rule of Six’ – to allow larger groups to socialise after months of confinement, just in time for the Easter break.
Non-contact outdoor sport for young people can return. Further opportunities for recreation will be allowed in late March, with tennis courts, football pitches, open air swimming pools, and basketball courts permitted to open. This will also allow formally-organised grassroots sport (i.e. your local football team) to resume for ages 12 to 17 years old only.
Travelling out of local areas can resume. We’ll be able to travel further afield to socialise with others as the legal requirement to stay local is dropped – however, overnight stays will still be forbidden, and the guidance is to stay local still.
Final phase of return to schools. All pupils, both primary and secondary, hope to be back in school receiving face-to-face teaching.
Reopening of retail and restoration of click and collect services. Essential retailers list expanded slightly and click-and-collect resumes for non-essential retail.
The next stage would likely begin at the end of April (provided the data supports further easing), and could see the return of hospitality and retail. We’ll likely know in early April whether these steps can go ahead. This will also see most areas of the country who are under Level 4 restrictions move to Level 3, or with some modifications, as part of the government’s Strategic Framework. The First Minister said this “will allow us to let some parts of the country move faster than others, if the data supports that. Moving back to the levels system at that time will be contingent on us having vaccinated the JCVI 1-9 groups.”
Non-essential shops and hospitality can reopen. Shopping and eating out will be back on the cards as retailers and hospitality venues can open their doors once again.
Hairdressers and nail salons reopen. It’ll finally be time for a long overdue haircut as salons open to the public once more. Precautions including face masks and PPE are likely to be in effect.
Indoor leisure facilities like gyms and swimming pools can reopen. Workouts and laps are back on the table in this stage.
Places of worship can reopen. However, capacity will be restricted and this may be earlier to coordinate with religious celebrations.
All over-50s offered a vaccine. This is the government’s new target date for every over-50 and vulnerable person in the UK to receive their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, which will hopefully give a large section of the population some immunity by May.
The First Minister revealed that each of these phases will depend on the success on the one before, and will be driven by the data. So, for instance, if the beginning of phase 2 is delayed by one week, then the timeline for phases 3 & 4 will also be pushed back by one week. Nicola Sturgeon said she acknowledges the strategic framework is “deliberately cautious” at this stage. However, she adds: “In the coming weeks, if the data allows and positive trends continue, we will seek to accelerate the easing of restrictions.”
The First Minister also said the government aims to offer first doses of the vaccine to the entire adult population by the end of July rather than September as originally planned.
You can find the Scottish government’s Strategic Framework here.
This is a breaking news story, more to follow.