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Coronavirus / Face covering rule to remain in place for now

First minister Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Scottish Government

FIRST minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that the legal requirement to wear face coverings in certain public settings will continue in Scotland for the time being due to a spike in Covid cases.

The rule was due to be downgraded to guidance on Monday (21 March).

But Sturgeon said in an update to parliament today (Tuesday) that due to increased Covid cases across the country the requirement is expected to stay in place until early April.

A review will be carried out in two weeks.

All other legal requirements, apart from the face coverings, will be removed on Monday as planned.

Sturgeon said the spike in cases is down to a new sub-variant of Omicron, which is now dominant in Scotland.

But there is “no evidence” of link to more severe illness, or that it is better at evading vaccines.

The first minister added that officials continue to observe that the link to serious health harm from Covid has weakened considerably, mainly due to vaccine protection.

Meanwhile a total of 163 Covid cases have been confirmed in Shetland over the last four days.

Sturgeon said for the next month, until Easter, there will be no change to testing advice.

However,  from 18 April the Scottish Government will no longer advise people without symptoms to test twice weekly.

“With the exception of health and care settings, the advice to test regularly will also end from 18 April for workplaces, and for early learning and childcare settings, mainstream and special schools, and universities and colleges,” Sturgeon said.

“However, until the end of April, we will continue to advise using LFTs daily for 7 days if a close contact, and on each occasion when visiting a hospital or care home.”

The government’s intention is that from the end April all routine population-wide testing will end, including for those who have symptoms, as will contact tracing – although people with respiratory illness symptoms will be advised to stay at home.

A newly published Test and Protect Transition Plan says from mid-April “advice to the general public to routinely test if asymptomatic will cease and access to lateral flow tests for that purpose will stop”.

From the end of April “general public will no longer be advised to seek a test if symptomatic – at this stage we will move instead to general public health guidance to stay at home if unwell”.

“Physical test sites will close at the end of April – although mobile testing units and lab capacity will be retained for our longer term testing purposes,” Sturgeon added.

Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said in response that “we should now trust the public to be able to take the right decision on when and where to wear masks”.

“Covid cases are currently higher in Scotland, where masks are still mandatory, than in England, where masks haven’t been mandatory for over a month,” he said.

“And it’s quite remarkable that, as Nicola Sturgeon was in parliament telling Scots they had to keep wearing masks until April, she was doing so while standing in front of row after row of maskless SNP MSPs.”