Coronavirus restrictions are “highly unlikely” to be significantly eased in any part of the country on Tuesday but “careful judgement” will be given to toughening up existing measures, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The first minister will announce the results of the first review of her new five-tier Covid-19 alert system to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday after a meeting of the Cabinet, with any new restrictions coming into force from Friday.
Business bosses have urged the SNP leader not to “panic” and introduce harsher controls anywhere evidence suggests they could be relaxed rather than tightened.
Speaking during the Scottish Government’s briefing on Monday, Ms Sturgeon said it was “highly unlikely that we will see any significant easing of restrictions” this week.
But she said “careful judgement” would be given to whether any local authority areas have to move up a level, and that no decision had yet been reached on moving Fife – where cases sit at 108 per 100,000 – from level two to level three.
Ms Sturgeon said measures already in place across the country had undoubtedly had an impact on the spread of the virus but stressed there must be a “significant and sustained reduction in cases” before measures can be eased.
She said: “While a plateauing of cases is undoubtedly better than a rise of cases, we can’t afford cases simply to plateau at their current, quite high level.
“We need them to fall, otherwise we will be badly exposed to any further rise in cases as we go deeper into winter. And we know that a further rise is entirely possible, we can see that by looking across Europe and the world right now.”
Concern at case numbers
The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 fell by 19 on Monday, to 1,226, while the number in intensive care dropped by six to 105. One death from coronavirus was recorded into Monday, along with 912 new positive tests.
Ms Sturgeon said there was still “very real concern” that overall cases numbers were not yet falling at a substantial enough rate and there is likely to be “more pressure on compliance with basic measures over the forthcoming Christmas period”.
She said she did not anticipate switching to a national lockdown similar to the month-long restrictions currently in place in England, although she admitted this could not be ruled out as measures are reviewed in the weeks ahead.
‘Not a neutral act’
The central belt of Scotland is currently in level three of the measures, along with Dundee and Ayrshire, with other parts of the country in levels one or two. No local authority area is in the lower or highest tiers.
There has been speculation that Fife could be forced to move up a level, and some areas, such as Aberdeen and the Borders, have seen calls for their local tier to be reduced.
Ms Sturgeon said downgrading an area’s level is “not a neutral act” because it is likely to increase spread of the virus, something that even areas with low case indicators may not yet be able to cope with.
She said: “It’s not just the data on any given day we look at, we have to look at the trend and satisfy ourselves before any area moves down a level that a downward trend has been established and we think it is sustainable.
“Moving down a level is not a neutral act. It leads to opening up, and that leads to an increase in transmission, so we have to make sure the levels there are low enough to cope with that.”
Ms Sturgeon said she will tell MSPs on Tuesday whether current travel advice barring people from moving in or out of level three areas, outside a small number of exemptions, will be backed up by new legislation.