Scotland to ease COVID measures from Monday but with 'certain modifications'
Scotland is to move to level zero of Covid restrictions on 19 July, but mandatory use of face coverings is to remain in place for "some time" and other indicative changes have been put on hold.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the planned easing had to be modified due to the spread of the Delta variant.
The move to level zero means more people will be allowed to meet indoors and attend weddings and funerals.
However, limits on outdoor meetings are to be maintained, and the return of workers to offices is to be delayed.
Ms Sturgeon said "sensible precautions" had to be maintained while the vaccine programme continues.
She said she still hoped Scotland could move beyond level zero from 9 August - the point at which the government aimed to scrap most legal restrictions.
Ministers also plan remove the blanket requirement for close contacts of those who test positive to self-isolate - as long as they have had two doses of vaccine - at that point.
And fully-vaccinated people returning from amber list countries will not need to quarantine as of Monday, as long as they take a test after arrival.
However, the first minister told MSPs that mandatory precautions like the mandatory wearing of face coverings and guidance on ventilation and hand hygiene would remain in place "for some time".
The move to level zero means:
- Up to eight adults from four households can meet indoors at home, and up to 10 can meet in a pub or restaurant - with no need to pre-book a two-hour slot.
- Up to 15 people from 15 households can meet outdoors, and up to 200 can attend weddings and funerals.
Plans have, however, been modified in light of high case numbers:
- Hospitality venues will be required to close at midnight.
- Some physical distancing rules are to be maintained outdoors, with different groups of 15 required to stay at least 1m (3ft 3in) apart in public spaces - meaning there may be limits on some outdoor events.
A "gradual" return to office working was due to be part of the move to level zero, but this has now been put back to 9 August.
Vicki Unite, Chief Executive of Perthshire Chamber of Commerce, said:
“It’s two steps forward, but at least one step back. While obviously a slower, phased return to some kind of normality is beneficial for health reasons, the toll continues to be considerable for business.
“And once again it’s hospitality and town and city centre retail businesses that are bearing the brunt of it, especially those shops and cafes reliant on the custom from office workers.
“August 9th has been ‘writ large’ in businesses’ calendars and I think they will still look towards that date as one where all restrictions are lifted, and consider today’s announcement as hopefully just a small bump on the road for some.
“It’s perhaps the continuing uncertainty that is causing the greatest anxiety and this will certainly dent confidence in the short term. I understand a revision or update of the guidance may happen in the next day or two and would hope this takes place as soon as possible.”
Dr Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said:
“The confirmation that Scotland will move to Level 0 on 19th July marks another encouraging milestone towards the full re-opening of Scotland’s economy and business’s ability to recover.
“The fact remains though that the modified framework deviates away from what businesses had been preparing for and moving the goalposts at this late stage will cause uncertainty, negatively impacting on business confidence and recovery.
“The postponing of the phased return of offices will be a bitter blow for employees and employers alike, many of which had been getting ready to welcome employees back into offices from next week. This will also sound alarm bells for those town and city centre businesses, reliant on office worker footfall and custom, who now need to wait another month until those workers start to return.
“Scotland’s hospitality sector, one of the hardest hit by restrictions, will be concerned that anticipated restrictions were not lifted, including little reprieve for the night-time economy, with challenging restrictions on trading remaining.”
On changes to rules for self-isolation and quarantine, Liz Cameron said:
“A greater four-nations alignment on international travel restrictions and self-isolation is positive, however, until all restrictions are lifted many businesses operating in Scotland’s travel and tourism sector simply won’t be able to open.
“The international travel industry is vital to Scotland’s wider tourism and hospitality sectors, and it’s essential that financial support for these businesses is not only continued but enhanced to allow them to fully recover when restrictions do finally lift.”
On moving beyond Level 0, Liz Cameron said:
“Our view is clear that we should continue on the path set out towards the lifting of all restrictions on the 9th of August as planned.
“The role of the Scottish and UK Government must evolve to enable businesses and communities to operate with autonomy, according to personal circumstances, business preferences and sectoral requirements.”
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