Travel within Scotland for outdoor socialising, recreation and exercise will be allowed from Friday 16 April.
People must continue to Stay Local for other purposes such as non-essential shopping, and public transport capacity will continue to be limited.
Outdoor meetings in groups of up to six adults from up to six households will also be allowed from Friday, with under-12s not counting towards this limit. Socialising in homes is still not permitted.
This easing of restrictions has been brought forward as data shows continued progress on vaccination against Coronavirus (COVID-19) and suppression of the virus. Caution was urged by the First Minister to protect against resurgence of the virus as the latest easing was confirmed – people should take care to plan ahead with journeys and follow the FACTS advice when out and about.
Nicola Sturgeon said that further reviews will take place to consider the rest of the Common Travel Area, including for Northern Ireland ahead of 26 April which will take into account the outcome of the review of restrictions there later this week.
Temporary travel restrictions may still be necessary beyond 26 April to and from targeted places with high rates of COVID-19, either in Scotland or in other parts of the CTA, to protect against importation of the virus.
Updated Strategic Framework Protection Level tables have been published showing the route map for future easings. These include new limits on attendance at public events tailored to individual settings based on available space for physical distancing from Level 2 and below. Self-assessment guidance will be published to enable businesses to calculate the specific limits for their premises.
The First Minister added: “We have made significant progress in reducing the number of new COVID cases in Scotland, partly due to the success of the vaccination programme but also because so many people have stuck so well to the rules. Daily cases are at the lowest level since September, and have declined more than 85% since early January.
“After consulting with island communities we have decided to align islands with the rest of Scotland for a period so that travel, and therefore parts of the economy that so many islanders rely on, can operate more normally from 26 April. Let me reassure those who would have preferred to see the islands move to Level 2 at the end of April that we do expect at least a move to Level 2 to happen on 17 May.
“More generally, we currently expect the whole country to move to at least Level 2 on 17 May, to Level 1 in early June, and to Level 0 in late June.
“Reaching Level 0 is not the extent of our ambitions, and later on in the summer as the number of people who have been vaccinated increases further we hope that a level of normality well beyond Level 0 will become possible.
“We have always said we will keep plans under review and accelerate the lifting of restrictions if possible. The improved data does not allow us to throw caution to the wind – not if we are sensible – but it does give us a bit of limited headroom.
“So from the end of this week, you will be able to meet up with family and friends who live in different parts of the country. Many of those reunions will be long-awaited, and much anticipated. Please do remember that meetings at this stage must still be outdoors – you cannot socialise in people’s homes – and remember due to physical distancing, public transport capacity remains relatively limited.
“COVID is in retreat in Scotland but it hasn’t gone away – it will come back if we allow it. So we must still exercise care and caution, continue to stick to the rules that are in place, work from home if you can and when you do leave the house, remember FACTS.”
Updated Strategic Framework Protection Level tables can be downloaded at Coronavirus (COVID-19): local protection levels – gov.scot (www.gov.scot)
Ms Sturgeon says the Scottish Government’s priority is to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there, while the population strives to return to a more normal life for as many people as possible. There are six main tools for achieving this:
- Ms Sturgeon says the quickest practical roll-out of the vaccination programme
- the most effective use of Test and Protect
- applying proportionate protective measures (rules and guidance) to suppress transmission of the virus
- effective measures to manage the risk of importation of the virus
- supporting individuals, businesses and organisations to adhere to protective measures
- providing care and support to mitigate the harms of the crisis
The six conditions for safe easing set out by the World Health Organisation are:
- COVID-19 transmission is under control
- sufficient health systems and public health capabilities are in place
- outbreak risks are minimised in vulnerable settings
- workplace preventative measures are established
- risk of imported cases are managed
- communities are fully engaged
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton responded to the First Minister’s announcement that Scotland will move to level 3 restrictions from next week.
Mr Cole-Hamilton, left, said: “After the year we’ve endured, it’s nice to see glimpses of normality returning. People have made huge sacrifices .
“My heart hurts for all the families who lost loved ones. My gratitude goes to our brave NHS workers who did wonders throughout this pandemic, despite the lack of preparation from the SNP government. That’s why we cannot let our guard down, we can and should enjoy our coffee and meal with our friend outside, but we must remain careful.
“For a year Scottish Liberal Democrats have consistently called for the test and trace system to be beefed up. If new strains arrive in the Scotland we must have the resources in place to swiftly crush them before they can spread.
“The Scottish Liberal Democrats want to put recovery first and help our health system bounce back from the disruption that the pandemic and 14 years of SNP rule has created. “