FM Sturgeon, Professor Leitch, Dr Smith and Economy Minister Fiona Hyslop.
By Bill Heaney
The UK’s coronavirus alert level has been downgraded from four to three, its chief medical officers, including Dr Gregor Smith, Scotland’s CEO, have said.
Under level three, the virus is considered to be “in general circulation” and there could be a “gradual relaxation of restrictions”.
Previously transmission was considered to be “high or rising exponentially”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the change was “a big moment for the country” and showed that the government’s plan was working.
The decision to reduce the alert level followed a recommendation by the Joint Bio-security Centre, the chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said.
“There has been a steady decrease in cases we have seen in all four nations, and this continues,” the medical officers said in a joint statement.
But they warned it “does not mean that the pandemic is over” and that “localised outbreaks are likely to occur”.
“We have made progress against the virus thanks to the efforts of the public and we need the public to continue to follow the guidelines carefully to ensure this progress continues,” they said.
There are five coronavirus alert levels in total.
In determining the UK’s alert level, the four chief medical officers considered a number of factors including:
- Covid-19’s reproduction (R) number, a scientific measure of how fast the virus is spreading
- The number of new coronavirus infections and whether this daily figure has been consistently falling
- Whether the number of Covid-19 hospital and intensive care admissions and deaths per day has also fallen for the past four weeks
Mr Hancock said recent progress in these factors showed “a real testament to the British people’s determination to beat this virus”.
“Infection rates are rapidly falling, we have protected the NHS and, thanks to the hard work of millions in our health and social care services, we are getting the country back on her feet,” he added.
The move comes weeks after some restrictions were first eased in each UK nation.
And more were eased by FM Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland yesterday.
At the end of May, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs that “we’re coming down the Covid alert system from level four to level three tomorrow, we hope, we’re going to be taking a decision tomorrow”.
But the next day, the government decided instead not to lower the alert level and it remained at four until now.
Why will it now be compulsory to wear face coverings on public transport when previous advice has been that masks don’t work, asked Radio Clyde reporter Bryan Rutherford at today’s briefing.
Nicola Sturgeon said this is “one of the most basic things we can do to protect each other”.
She responded to whether, and how much, people will be fined if they don’t comply by saying: “When we put something in law, of course it can be enforced. But let’s do things for the right reasons.”
Ms Sturgeon says the police will continue to act in a “proportionate and sensitive way”.
Balloch primary school campus and Our Lady and St Patrick’s in Bellsmyre.
Aileen Clarke from BBC Scotland asked if there are plans to ensure that probationary teachers will be utilised when schools return in August.
This is now more likely to happen then ever with the fall of the R number, especially if it gets down to one or below one.
“We will need all of our resources to get through this, replies the first minister,” who said the issue of schools is of huge importance to her personally.
Ms Sturgeon repeated her wish to get schools back to normal as quickly as possible and for children to enjoy attending again – and that it will be contingent on how successfully the continued suppression of the virus is.
“We have to be careful and safe about this,” she says, pointing to some 24 outbreaks in England, where there has already been some limited return to schooling.
Is there a concern that, as lockdown restrictions are eased, people “will push the limits” or do as they please now?
The first minister said this has always been a concern – “We’ve made the progress we have because the vast majority of people have complied with the rules.
“Easing restrictions means we are now potentially providing more bridges for the virus to spread.
“That’s why we are lifting these measures very carefully and being clear about the dos and don’ts.
“People should look at the official guidance and, when in doubt, do not return to pre-Covid practices yet.”
Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, reminded people that 8.5 million people globally have had coronavirus, with more than 500,000 deaths and 55,000 still in intensive care units.
He compared this to the Ebola outbreak in 2016, which infected 30,000 people globally.
“That is why the move out of lockdown is so, so important and has to be so careful,” he said.
With some NHS services starting to resume, he urged people to attend appointments, even if they might be concerned about safety and risk – “I’d like to assure you the health boards are ready; they have put in place all the appropriate health, safety and social distancing measures required to keep you and staff safe.
“They would not ask you to attend if they did not feel it was safe to do so.”
With Father’s Day coming up this weekend, he added that there is an onus on all of us to keep choosing to do the right things – “Don’t look for ways to push the boundaries; look for ways to stay within the boundaries.”
Over the coming weeks shops will start to reopen, work will resume in certain industries, and some of the rules about meeting other people are being relaxed.
But not all the changes will take place at the same time.
So check before you leave the house.
“This is no ordinary economic downturn,” stressed Fiona Hyslop, the cabinet secretary for the economy, who says the government has been “working tirelessly to keep businesses afloat”.
Broadmeadow Industrial Estate in Dumbarton where manufacturing can start on June 29 if safety criteria is met.
The gradual reopening of businesses is only possible because of compliance, added Ms Hyslop, who stated that public health guidance remains “absolutely central as we move into phase two of the route map out of lockdown”.
In addition to yesterday’s announcement, she explained that the government will continue to publish detailed guidance for different sectors.
She revealed that the remainder of the nation’s manufacturing can restart from 29 June – if they can meet all of the safety criteria.
This is a significant boost, she said, with some 180,000 people employed in manufacturing, with very few in that category able to work from home.