Coronavirus: Scotland not yet ready to relax 2m distance rule

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2 metres signImage source, PA Media

Scotland will not immediately follow England in cutting the 2m social distance rule, the country's first minister has said.

Nicola Sturgeon said she would give an update on Wednesday on the country's lockdown easing restrictions.

But she said there would be no decision on whether or not to reduce the 2m rule until her Scientific Advisory Group has examined the evidence.

Ms Sturgeon said this would be done by 2 July at the latest.

The first minister was speaking as Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted an array of coronavirus restrictions in England.

Mr Johnson said the "long national hibernation" was coming to an end as he announced that pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers can open from 4 July in England.

The 2m social distancing rule will also be eased from that date, although a "one metre plus" rule will be introduced.

The new guidelines in England will see people encouraged to use "mitigation" such as face coverings and not sitting face-to-face when within 2m of each other, and "where it is possible to keep 2m apart, people should".

The prime minister said it was each nation's own responsibility to make their own lockdown restrictions, but that all parts of the UK were now "travelling in the same direction".

Ms Sturgeon told her daily briefing in Edinburgh that she would be "very interested" to see the scientific evidence upon which the UK government had based its decision.

The first minister, like Mr Johnson, has been under pressure from the tourism and hospitality sector, as well as many other businesses, to relax the distancing rules to make it easier for them to reopen.

It would also make it easier for pupils to return to the classroom without the need for part-time "blended learning".

Image caption,
Ms Sturgeon will outline further details of the lockdown easing plans on Wednesday

Ms Sturgeon said she was under no illusions about the potential economic benefits - but stressed that easing the rules also brought a greater risk of the virus spreading.

She added: "The Scottish government is clear that the advice and evidence we have right now supports physical distancing at 2m in order to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

"But we have asked in what settings, what circumstances and with what additional mitigation it might be possible to accept the risk of people not keeping to a 2m distance.

"That advice will be available by the 2nd of July. Until then the position here in Scotland remains the same, we are advising people to maintain 2m physical distancing."

Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw accused Ms Sturgeon of following a "go-slow" approach that risked leaving Scotland behind both economically and socially.

He added: "It will be very difficult for people here to look on as England, and indeed the rest of Europe, begins a return to normal.

"It will also be very costly for businesses, industries like tourism and hospitality, and the mental health of the nation."

Last Thursday, Scotland formally moved to the second phase of its four-phase plan aimed at ending the three-month lockdown while continuing to suppress the virus that has been linked to the deaths of more than 4,000 people across the country.

Ms Sturgeon told the briefing she will announce more details on easing lockdown restrictions tomorrow, which she said was earlier than she had originally planned to do so.

This acceleration of the plans was possible because of the progress that had been made during what had been the "most challenging" three month period in the lifetime of most Scots, she added.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Hospital admissions which at one point were at 200 a day are currently in single figures every day.

"The number of people in intensive care has fallen by 90% and while it is the case that one person dying from this virus is one too many, we've also seen a very significant and sustained decline in the number of those deaths."

The NHS did not "come close" to being overwhelmed, Ms Sturgeon said, crediting the efforts of the Scottish people for the progress made in suppressing the virus.

But she said the "sorrow" over those who have died - about half of them in care homes - would "live with me forever".