Reopening schools and relaxing rules on social distancing are among the top priorities of the Scottish Government when it comes to easing lockdown measures.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said today lifting restrictions will not be like “flipping a switch” but a gradual process, because the R number is slightly higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK.
Speaking at her daily coronavirus press briefing at St Andrew’s House, Edinburgh, she announced a total of 1,620 patients have now died in Scotland after testing positive for c oronavirus, up 44 from 1,576 on Monday.
And 12,437 people have tested positive for the virus in Scotland, up by 171 from 12,266 the day before.
Allowing some children to return to schools and changing daily exercise guidelines, including allowing people to meet friends, are among the options being considered as part of the shaping of the government’s Framework for Decision Making.
These are daily exercise, social distancing, health care services, business and schools.
Outlining numbers behind her reasoning, she said the R number – the number of people infected by each person who has the virus – is slightly higher in Scotland than the rest of the UK and an estimated 26,000 people are infectious.
She also said the “best estimate” is the R number is between 0.7 and one, but stressed: ”We can’t be sure it is not closer to one than 0.7.”
There are 104 people in intensive care with coronavirus or coronavirus symptoms, an increase of five on Monday, while 1,656 people are in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, a decrease of 64.
Since March 5, 2,847 people who have tested positive for coronavirus have been able to leave hospital.
Ms Sturgeon said measures the Scottish Government are considering include:
- Changing advice on spending time outdoors to allow exercise more than once a day;
- A slight relaxation of the rules to allow “meeting up with small defined groups” of people, even if initially only outdoors;
- Resuming some NHS and community care services;
- Carefully, gradually and safely allowing businesses to reopen but insisting on home working where possible for the near future;
- Allowing some children, such as those at transition points of education or studying for exams, to return to school.
While the FM said ministers are working towards “careful and gradual changes” to the lockdown restrictions, she also highlighted this will only happen “when we judge it is safe to make them, which I am afraid is not right now”.
With the current restrictions due to be reviewed on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said it is “highly unlikely” any significant changes will be made at this time.
And she warned changes could “quickly see transmission of the virus increase again”.
The First Minister said charts based on data from Denmark show if Scotland was to fully reopen nurseries and primary schools now “the most likely scenario would be a resurgence in the virus which would overwhelm our hospital capacity in matter of weeks”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The hard fact is we must see further restrictions in new cases, hospital and ICU admissions and deaths to be sure the overall level of infection and the R number are lower than they are now.
“That means for the moment we do need to stick with the current lockdown restrictions.”
She added the “severity of restrictions we are living under” cannot continue indefinitely.
The First Minister later told the BBC’s Reporting Scotland that she had concerns that giving a view as to what eased restrictions might look like could be detrimental.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I worry about the message being diluted, if that happens, and people starting to ease up.
“If anything, tighten up on compliance – don’t ease up on it.”