United Kingdom

Nicola Sturgeon hints that Scotland's lockdown exit will be speeded up

Nicola Sturgeon today hinted that Scotland's lockdown exit will be speeded up as she hailed the more 'optimistic' situation.

The First Minister struck a markedly more upbeat tone as she updated Holyrood on the battle with coronavirus.

Confirming that schools will open up more from March 15, she said it might be possible to go 'further and faster' than she previously suggested.

Ms Sturgeon's roadmap is considerably more cautious than Boris Johnson's, with the PM having set a June 21 deadline for all significant rules to have been lifted. 

Pubs, non-essential shops and restaurants are currently expected to have to wait until the end of April to open north of the border - while they can start to get back to business from April 12 in England. 

The SNP leader has faced a backlash over her vague approach with no firm dates beyond April for rules to be loosened. But she has dismissed Mr Johnson's June target date as 'made up'. 

In a statement to MSPs this afternoon, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish government will consider over the next week whether easing can be accelerated.

Nicola Sturgeon today hinted that Scotland's lockdown exit will be speeded up as she hailed the more 'optimistic' situation

The Scottish First Minister said she was looking at whether the lockdown could be eased 'further and faster' 

She said: 'I have always said if we can go further and faster, then we will not hesitate to do so.

'All of us want to move on as quickly as possible – and, as a priority, to see friends and family again. I hope that day is now not too far away.

'But to make sure we don't see any reverse in our progress that would put that in jeopardy, it is really important that, for now, we all need to abide by the lockdown rules.

'So please continue to stick to their letter and their spirit.'

Ms Sturgeon said the Covid-19 data has been 'much more encouraging' in Scotland over the past week. The average new daily cases has dropped to 657 from 815 at this point last week.

Ms Sturgeon said: 'Collectively, we are suppressing the virus, and saving lives.

'There is more reason to be optimistic now than at any time since early autumn.

'That said, we know we need to take care to avoid sending progress into reverse.'

Mr Sturgeon has previously dismissed Mr Johnson's June target date for ending restrictions as 'made up'

Ms Sturgeon confirmed the next phase of school returns in Scotland will go ahead as planned on March 15.

Last week's strategic framework said all primary school pupils would return full time, if data supported the return.

A phased return of pupils will take place between March 15 and the Easter break, with all pupils given at least some in-school teaching in that time, before full-time schooling returns after the holidays.

However, when secondary schools return, face coverings will have to be worn at all times and physical distancing guidelines followed.

Ms Sturgeon also urged school staff and older secondary pupils to take up the lateral flow tests being made available.

She said: 'I would encourage as many staff and senior phase pupils as possible to use the tests when they return to school. It is a further important way in which we can ensure that schools remain as safe as possible.'

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