AFTER almost 18 months of living under various degrees of Covid-19 restrictions, Scotland is moving beyond level zero from Monday onwards.
In a statement made remotely to the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, first minister Nicola Sturgeon set out the government’s approach to lifting restrictions which continue to be more cautious than in England.
There were no new Covid cases in Shetland during the last 24 hours. Across Scotland 1,016 new cases were recorded.
Vaccination will likely become a fact of life, Sturgeon said, and she confirmed that invitations to vaccinate 12 to 17 year olds with specific health conditions will be sent out soon.
While almost all remaining restrictions will end from Monday, and physical distancing will legally no longer be required, Sturgeon said social distancing was still recommended, and indeed expected, particularly in crowded places.
She said: “The move beyond level 0 will entail the lifting of most of the remaining legally imposed restrictions – most notably, on physical distancing and limits to the size of social gatherings. It also means that from 9 August, no venues will be legally required to close.”
From 9 August the following mitigations will stay in place:
- wearing of face coverings in public indoor places;
- test and protect will continue to contact trace positive cases;
- hospitality business will continue to be required to collect contact details of customers;
- home working is still recommended;
- those who have symptoms or test positive for Covid will still be required to self-isolate, but people identified as closed contact of someone who has tested positive will not longer be required automatically to self-isolate for 10 days.
Sturgeon added: “We expect the careful return of large scale events we will, for a limited period, keep in place the processes through which organisers of outdoor events of more than 5,000 and indoor events of more than 2,000 will have to apply for permission.”
The first minister then set out the changes to the new self-isolation requirements.
She said if someone has been identified as a close contact but is double-vaccinated – with at least two weeks having passed since the second dose – and if that person has no symptoms, they should get a PCR test as soon as possible. If the PCR test is negative, self isolation can then be ended.
“Since PCR results come back quickly – frequently within 24 hours – this will greatly reduce the amount of time that many people will need to spend in self-isolation,” she said.
“We are proposing a similar change for people aged 17 or under – most of whom, of course, are not yet eligible for vaccination.
“If a young person aged 5 to 17 is identified as a close contact, they will need to take a PCR test – but they can end their self-isolation if they test negative. Children under the age of five will be encouraged but not required to take a PCR test.
“In addition, Test and Protect will implement revised guidance for under 18s, including in schools. This means that the blanket isolation of whole classes will no longer be routine. Instead a more targeted approach will identify close contacts at highest risk of infection.
“So fewer young people will be asked to self-isolate, and most will be asked to self-isolate for a much shorter period of time. This is especially important as we approach the start of the new school year.”
The first minister also said that all schools and day care services for children will be required to have CO2 monitoring, through either fixed of mobile devices.
“These should be used to assess the quality of ventilation in schools and childcare settings, and identify any necessary improvements,” she said.
“Ventilation is one of the most important ways in which the risk of Covid transmission can be reduced – and so improving it will be vital, now and in the future, to ensure that schools and childcare centres are as safe as possible.”
“I can also confirm today that we are making available to local authorities an additional £10 million to support this work.
“Finally, local authorities and schools will ask all secondary pupils, and all school staff, to take a lateral flow test one or two days before they return after the holidays, and then to take tests twice a week after that.”
The relaxation of Covid rules were welcomed by isles MP Alistair Carmichael, who is currently standing in as the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats while the party seeks a successor for Willie Rennie who stood down from the post last month.
Carmichael said: “We are moving ‘beyond level zero’ which sounds a little like something that would break your calculator if you typed it in. Despite the slightly confusing wording the next step towards relaxing restrictions is good news for many, particularly in the tourism and hospitality trade.
“It is welcome that hospitality and other venues can be fully free to reopen with social distancing restrictions removed, other than indoor mask wearing. Exactly how happy clubbers shall be with wearing a mask while on the dance floor remains to be seen but I leave that question to be answered by others.
He re-emphasised his party’s concern over the question of vaccination passports: “My biggest concern is that once again the first minister has flip-flopped on vaccine passports. Just last week John Swinney ruled them out but it appears that they are back on the table.
“We all know that this government loves centralisation but such a scheme would be a massive imposition on people and on businesses – instead of spinning the first minister needs to rule them out for good.”
This afternoon’s announcement was also welcomed by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). Its Highlands and Islands Development manager David Richardson said: “This is very good news for businesses across the Highlands & Islands and it is something that we have been arguing strongly for.
“However, we know from our survey work that a worryingly large number of tourism businesses remain concerned that the delayed start to the season combined with the absence of international visitors are having a serious impact on their business’s survival chances.
”Moreover, serious, long-term problems remain, and today’s announcement is no guarantee of economic success. In particular, if we don’t make every effort to solve the staffing shortage issue long-term it is hard to see a full and successful recovery taking place.”
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