Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that Scotland will lift most of its remaining coronavirus restrictions next Monday.
Scotland‘s first minister said the move on 9 August will see nightclubs reopen, sports stadia and concert venues welcoming full capacity crowds, and social distancing coming to an end.
Ms Sturgeon has already confirmed face coverings in shops and on public transport will remain mandatory for “some time to come”.
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Every part of Scotland moved to Level 0 last month, which meant more people could gather in groups and the opening hours of hospitality businesses could be extended.
The announcement comes after Ms Sturgeon’s Cabinet considered the latest coronavirus data on Tuesday morning.
The Scottish Parliament was virtually recalled from its summer recess to hear the result of these discussions.
“The move beyond Level 0 will entail the lifting of most of the remaining legally enforced restrictions, most notably on physical distancing and limits to the size of social gatherings,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“It also means that from 9 August no venues will be legally required to close.
“This change is significant and hard-earned. The sacrifices everyone has made over the past year-and-a-half can never be overstated.”
But Ms Sturgeon urged people not to drop their guard, warning that “care and caution will still be required”.
She added: “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 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.”
Ms Sturgeon said that some protections and guidance will remain in place, including:
• The wearing of masks to be mandated “for some time to come”
• Test and Protect to continue
• Hybrid of home working and office working to be advised
• Continued consideration of vaccine passports for some events
• Face masks still to be worn by secondary school pupils and staff for up to six weeks
On home working, Ms Sturgeon said: “I know most businesses are not planning a wholesale return to the office, while recognising that a return for some staff will be beneficial to them and their employers. It is vital that this gradual approach continues.
“We will also encourage employers to consider for the longer term, as the Scottish Government is doing, a hybrid model of home and office working – which may, of course, have benefits beyond the need to control a virus.”
On vaccine passports, Scotland’s first minister added: “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.”
And on keeping the rule that secondary pupils must wear face masks while inside school buildings, she said: “I am acutely aware that many young people find this difficult – and it will be kept under review – but for now, we consider this an important protection for them, and for others in the school.”
Both pupils and staff in Scotland will also be asked to take lateral flow tests before returning to schools after the summer break and twice a week thereafter.
Ms Sturgeon also announced that the requirement for someone who is double jabbed to self-isolate after close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus will be dropped if a negative test result is received.
Those under 18 will also be able to end self-isolation if they test negative, while those under five will be simply be “encouraged” to take a test.
The change means blanket self-isolations for entire classes will no longer occur.
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But Ms Sturgeon did warn that “no one can guarantee” that COVID-19 restrictions will not have to be re-imposed at a later date.
“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,” she said.
“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.”