United Kingdom

Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland WILL exit lockdown on Monday - but mask wearing will remain law

Scotland will exit its lockdown on Monday but some 'mitigation' measures including mask wearing will remain in place, Nicola Sturgeon said today.

The First Minister confirmed the country would exit Level 0, ending social distancing and limits in the size of social gatherings, on August 9.

But mask wearing will be required by law indoors and large events with capacities of more than 2,000 inside and 5,000 outside will have to gain special permission to take place.

But in a move that will heap pressure on Boris Johnson amid the English 'pingdemic', self-isolation requirements will be dropped if someone passes a PCR test. 

Schoolchildren will also have to wear mask in lessons and socially distance in schools in September.    

Announcing that face coverings would remain mandatory the First Minister said it was 'premature' to suggest the pandemic had been beaten. 

She also raised the spectre of some restrictions returning in winter, saying she could not rule it out. 

In a virtual statement to MSPs she said: 'This change is significant and hard-earned. The sacrifices everyone has made over the past year-and-a-half can never be overstated.

'However, while this move will restore a substantial degree of normality, it is important to be clear that it does not signal the end of the pandemic or a return to life exactly as we knew it before Covid struck.

'Declaring freedom from, or victory over, this virus is premature. 

 The First Minister confirmed the country would exit Level 0, ending social distancing and limits in the size of social gatherings, on August 9.

SNP and Greens set to seal pro-independence alliance deal

The SNP and the Scottish Greens are close to a co-operation agreement, a source has said.

The two parties have been locked in negotiations since May, after the SNP fell just one seat short of an overall majority at the Holyrood elections.

While both parties said there would not be a formal coalition between the two, an agreement would see them work together on key issues, and could even see some Green MSPs appointed as ministers in Nicola Sturgeon's government.

An agreement would help towards formalising the 72 pro-independence  MSPs in Holyrood, seven more than the 65 needed for a majority. 

A source familiar with the negotiations said there had been 'good progress' made and a deal was '95 per cent' done.

An announcement, the source claimed, could come as early as the end of this week.  

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar referred to the Scottish Greens as a 'branch office' of the SNP, saying: 'Scotland needs a real alternative that is standing up for our national recovery, the NHS and decent jobs - not the same old constitutional arguments.' 

'The harm the virus can do, including through the impact of long Covid, should not be underestimated. And its ability to mutate may yet pose us real challenges.

'So even as we make this move today, care and caution will still be required, and that is why I want to focus now on the protections and guidance that will remain in place after August 9.'

The First Minister delivered her statement this afternoon to the Scottish Parliament virtually. The SNP leader set the August 9 target date back in June before the country moved to the lowest tier of curbs on July 19 which increased the numbers of people who are allowed to gather and extended the opening hours of hospitality.  

Sports stadia and concert venues will go back to being able to welcome full capacity crowds again for the first time in nearly 18 months - if they can get permission. 

The Scottish Government is continuing to consider the use of vaccine passports for access to some events, Ms Sturgeon added.

The First Minister told MSPs that an app is under development to allow for such certification for those travelling abroad, but it will also allow for vaccine certification domestically.

The First Minister said: 'I can assure Parliament that we do not underestimate the ethical, equity and human rights issues associated with Covid-status certification and will keep members updated and consulted on our thinking on this issue.'

Ominously she added that no-one can guarantee that Covid-19 restrictions will not have to be re-imposed.

'We all hope - I know I certainly do - that the restrictions we lift next Monday will never again have to be re-imposed. But no-one can guarantee that.

'This virus remains a threat - and as we enter winter, it may well pose challenges for us again.

'So as we have done throughout, the Government will seek to take whatever action is necessary to keep the country safe.

'But as has also been the case throughout, we all have a part to play in keeping the virus under control.'

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross had earlier said social distancing guidance should change as planned but called for amendments to the self-isolation rules of those who are double vaccinated.

He said: 'The success of Scotland and the UK's vaccine scheme overall means we can now look to move forward, cautiously but confidently, and remove almost all Covid restrictions.

'The blanket requirement to self-isolate for 10 days should be amended for those who are double vaccinated, since the virus now poses far less risk to people with that level of protection. 

The number of positive coronavirus cases continues to fall in Scotland, according to official data published by Public Health Scotland

The number of coronavirus deaths is also now falling after spiking during a third wave of infections

'We should move to a test-first system that lets people get on with their lives safely.

'Scotland's economic recovery hinges on the SNP Government moving beyond Covid restrictions – we must seize this opportunity to start rebuilding from the damage of Covid now and not delay any longer.'

Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour leader, said: 'We are at a crucial moment in our exit from restrictions and while there is light at the end of the tunnel, we must make sure we take all the action necessary to jump start Scotland's recovery.

'We need to ensure that people are kept safe and that businesses are helped to restart the economy.

'Perhaps most importantly, we urgently need a plan for our NHS and care systems to ensure that workers feel supported, services are invested in and the backlog of appointments is cleared.

'We have to learn to live with the virus, but to do so in such a way that the people of Scotland, our NHS and our economy are supported and protected.' 

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