Scotland will take its first, tentative steps towards a new normal on Friday as the country enters phase one of its journey out of lockdown.
Scots will be free to meet people from another household once a day and sports such as golf, tennis, bowls and fishing will resume for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak forced unprecedented restrictions on our freedom.
Strict guidelines on physical distancing will remain in place and the public has been urged to “proceed with the utmost caution” as Scotland moves into the first stage of a four-phase “route map” out of lockdown.
It comes as a new “test and protect” system of tracing and isolating people who may have the virus is rolled out nationwide by the country’s health boards.
Speaking at her daily briefing in Edinburgh, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that from Friday:
- People can meet friends or family from another household outside (in private gardens or outdoor spaces) once a day in small groups of up to eight.
- “Most outdoor work” can resume – with the construction industry able to carry out site preparation.
- Garden centres and plant nurseries can reopen some services.
- Sport or outdoor leisure activities including golf, tennis, bowls and fishing can resume so long as there is no contact and individuals adhere to social distancing rules at all times.
- Sunbathing in parks and other open areas is allowed.
- Travel for recreation, preferably by walking or cycling, can take place but Scots must stay within their own local area – a recommended maximum distance of five miles – and not use public transport.
From Monday, teachers and other staff will be able to enter schools to prepare for the return of most pupils from August 11, when they will begin a “blended model” of education split between classroom and home learning.
Household recycling centres are also rescheduled to open from Monday.
Ms Sturgeon said there had been a “sustained and unmistakable” downward trend in the spread of Covid-19 over a number of weeks, meaning changes can now be made to restrictions that have been in place since March 23.
Her advisers have modelled with “reasonable” confidence that the R number – or rate of transmission – has been below one for at least three weeks but is likely above 0.7. The prevalence of the virus was also down, with suspected cases falling to 19,000.
Scottish Government figures showed 15,288 have now tested positive for the virus in Scotland, while 2,316 have died after having a laboratory-confirmed case.
Ms Sturgeon warned “we have limited room for manoeuvre” and officials “need to get the balance right” to avoid a deadly resurgence of Covid-19. She said if the virus surges again, tight restrictions would have to be reimposed.
The first minister asked families to meet just one other group per day but clarified households can meet different groups of people on different days.
She said: “I know how much all of you, all of us, will be looking forward to seeing family and friends for the first time in a while, but how we do this will be vital.
“Before you meet up with people from another household, you should stop, think, read the guidance and make sure you’re protecting yourself and others.
“In particular, you must stay outdoors and stay two metres away from people from the other household – that is crucial.”
The first minister said people should bring their own cutlery and crockery to picnics and barbecues and avoid using another household’s toilets.
Ms Sturgeon said the easing was an important step “back to some kind of normality” but insisted it is “by necessity” cautious, and the lockdown is far from over.
“No changes are risk-free and there are no certainties in any of this but I’ve also said that I wanted to make sure that with every step we do take then the ground beneath our feet is as solid as possible, and that’s what we are taking care to ensure,” she said.
“I don’t mind admitting to you that, as we take these first steps, I do feel a bit nervous.
“I worry that the limited changes that we’re making to these rules might lead to much greater change in reality, and so I really need your help to make sure that is not the case.”
The changes do not apply to the “shielding group” – those most vulnerable to the virus – but Ms Sturgeon said such individuals remain a “central part of our thinking as we consider how we move forward”.
The first minister said how well the public follows the new practices will determine whether ministers can go further in the future. The impact will be considered again when the three-week review phase ends on June 18.
Scottish Chambers of Commerce chief executive Dr Liz Cameron said the changes were welcome but warned “the clock for businesses is ticking”.
She said: “The need for firmer timelines is an increasingly urgent matter for companies across all sectors who still face significant risk if they are not able to open urgently.
“Preparing for a safe return to the workplace is the utmost priority for businesses and should be too for government.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said there should be “full disclosure” of evidence guiding the government’s decision-making at each stage of the route-map.
He said: “This is essential for public confidence. People across Scotland have done the right thing and stayed at home, often at great cost emotionally and financially.
“So being able to socialise in a limited way and undertake some additional activities will be welcome. But it is crucial that people read the government’s guidance and remember that this crisis is far from over, and life and social contact should not yet feel normal.”
Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw called for the Scottish Government to review and update its exit strategy on a weekly basis.