Nicola Sturgeon has announced that Scotland’s hairdressers, car showrooms and garden centres will be allowed to reopen in three weeks time, as she forecast the country’s lockdown could be substantially lifted by June.
The first minister said the overall decline in Covid infections and rapid expansion of vaccinations meant she expected to see lockdown restrictions on the mainland shifting down a tier to level 3 and Scotland’s islands to level 2 by 26 April.
On that date, she said, all Scotland’s shops, libraries, museums, hotels and B&Bs would be allowed to reopen, as will gyms, and those pubs and restaurants able to serve food and drink outdoors.
Mainland travel restrictions would also be lifted on 26 April, allowing free travel, with restrictions on travelling to other parts of the UK and Ireland expected that day or soon afterwards, she said. By then, 99% of people in the main target groups should be vaccinated.
In a more detailed route map than previously offered, Sturgeon said that by late June the whole of Scotland would be put on level 0, the least onerous controls on movements, mingling and shopping.
Scotland’s “stay at home” rules would be lifted on 2 April, to be replaced by a “stay local” message for a further three weeks.
“The steps I have outlined today give a significant degree of clarity for the period between now and mid May,” she told MSPs.
“[Our] hope and ambition is that from early June, all of Scotland will move to level 1 – which will allow for a further easing of restrictions. And then by the end of June, we hope that all of Scotland will move to at least level 0.”
Sturgeon had originally said easing lockdown in Scotland would be based “data not dates”, and was heavily criticised for being over-cautious. Pressed by Willie Rennie, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, on why she was now offering firm dates but little new data, she acknowledged people expected greater certainty.
She warned, however, that these indicative dates were not fixed. “If the data goes wildly in the wrong direction, all bets are off,” she told Rennie.
Sturgeon warned that the average daily rates of infection had risen slightly in the last week, up from 490 in the first week of March to an average of 570 daily cases over the last week. Some parts of Scotland have seen clear increases.
Even so, the numbers in hospital had fallen by seven to 440 patients overall; that including 42 people in intensive care, an increase of two overnight. Another seven deaths were reported in the last 24 hours of people with confirmed Covid infections, taking the total under that measure to 7,517 fatalities.
In her statement, she told Holyrood: “It is our fervent hope – and also our tentatively increasing expectation – that vaccination, continued use of the test and protect system, and probably a continued compliance with precautions like good hand hygiene, will allow us to keep Covid under much greater control.
“And that this will allow us to enjoy many of the things that we took for granted before the pandemic – for example, normal family gatherings where we can hug our loved ones, sporting events, gigs and nightclubs.”
She said Scotland’s islands, where infection rates have remained lower, were likely to move more quickly to lower tiers than the mainland, but there could be stricter travel restrictions to and from the mainland. MSPs from the islands have asked for pre-departure testing for travellers at ferry and airports. Sturgeon said ministers were discussing the best way of ensuring new cases were not imported to the islands.