Scotland should see the removal of all major legal coronavirus restrictions on 9 August, Nicola Sturgeon has said, as she confirmed that the move to level O of her government’s five-tier system of Covid controls will be delayed until 19 July, the same date as measures are to be lifted in England.
This pause will allow more time for people to be vaccinated, the first minster said, with the daily case rate in Scotland 40% higher than it was last week, as the Delta variant surges across the country.
Sturgeon told MSPs on Tuesday “normal life is much closer”, as the Scottish government faced criticism over the lack of scrutiny of Covid announcements it affords the Holyrood parliament.
The Scottish government has always been clear that level 0 is not the end point of restrictions – limits on indoor household gatherings will remain, for example – and today Sturgeon set out a further stage for the country to move “beyond zero” in early August.
The eventual move to level 0 will see the limits for household gatherings indoors increase, and up to 200 people able to attend weddings and funerals. The general indoor physical distancing requirement should be reduced from 2 metres to 1 metre, and the outdoor requirement to physically distance should be lifted altogether.
Sturgeon said she hoped it would be possible to end “major remaining legal restrictions”, including social distancing indoors, from 9 August, by which time all over-40s should have had their second vaccine for at least two weeks and signalling a “return to almost complete normality in our day-to-day lives”.
However, she warned that some measures, such as the use of face coverings in schools, shops and on public transport and regular hand-washing, would be required “at least for a period”, and said that her government would not advise an immediate return to office-working from that date.
Her statement came after the presiding officer, Alison Johnstone, issued a rebuke to ministers for not announcing the Manchester and Salford travel ban in parliament last Thursday, instead using a written question to make it public. This went unnoticed until Sturgeon’s televised announcement on Friday, which the Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, later described as “totally disproportionate”, criticising ministers for failing to give his officials advance notice.
Johnstone queried whether this was an “appropriate” way of announcing such restrictions, stating: “All significant and substantive announcements should be made to this parliament wherever that is possible.”