Nicola Sturgeon announces easing of Scotland’s lockdown

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People using trains, taxis, buses and ferries in Scotland will be required to wear face coverings from 22 June, but churches, dental surgeries and professional sports must wait a further week before they can resume, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The first minister told MSPs on Thursday that shops with access from the street, factories, outdoor sports and outdoor markets can reopen from 29 June, after putting strict physical-distancing measures in place. Places of worship will be able to reopen for individual prayer, but not communal worship.

R, or the ‘effective reproduction number’, is a way of rating a disease’s ability to spread. It’s the average number of people on to whom one infected person will pass the virus. For an R of anything above 1, an epidemic will grow exponentially. Anything below 1 and an outbreak will fizzle out – eventually.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the estimated R for coronavirus was between 2 and 3 – higher than the value for seasonal flu, but lower than for measles. That means each person would pass it on to between two and three people on average, before either recovering or dying, and each of those people would pass it on to a further two to three others, causing the total number of cases to snowball over time.

The reproduction number is not fixed, though. It depends on the biology of the virus; people’s behaviour, such as social distancing; and a population’s immunity. A country may see regional variations in its R number, depending on local factors like population density and transport patterns.

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent

Sturgeon also said people living alone could form “extended households” with their partners or another household from Friday, with people allowed to stay overnight without physical distancing. Until now, even close relatives have been expected to meet outdoors and keep 2 metres apart.

Face coverings on public transport would be mandatory, she said, and ministers are consulting the Scottish government’s scientific advisers on whether face coverings will also be required in shops when they reopen.

Sturgeon said marriages and civil partnership ceremonies could also resume from 29 June, but only outdoors. Playgrounds and zoos will also be able to reopen, but only for people living in the surrounding area.

Shielding people, who have been ordered to stay at home and avoid contact with non-family members, should be able to leave home from Friday and to start non-contact sports. She urged people not to travel further than five miles from home, unless seeing close family.

Scotland’s lockdown measures are the strictest in the UK. Other parts have reopened shops and other businesses more quickly, but Sturgeon said caution was essential, as was maintaining the strict 2-metre distancing rule.

She said the Scottish government wanted to delay the reopening of outdoor restaurants and pubs until July, when she would set out the next phase of easing the lockdown.

Sturgeon is under pressure from opposition parties, the tourism trade and business leaders to relax restrictions on businesses much more quickly, and is being pressed hard to set out a detailed programme to fully reopen schools and nurseries with emergency funding and extra buildings if needed.

“As we start to feel that the virus is receding, there will be a growing desire to move back to normality more quickly,” she said. “And we will feel frustrated at times, if that journey seems too slow. That is true for individuals and also, I know, for business.

“[But] if – as I believe is the case – frustration, leading to a premature easing of too many restrictions, is our biggest risk right now, it is equally true that patience could reap our biggest rewards.”

Sturgeon clashed with Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Conservative leader, after he challenged her refusal to put greater resources into reopening schools full-time or providing support for working parents.

Employers, business leaders and Sturgeon’s allies have said they are frustrated at her cautious approach, he said, after it emerged Scotland’s economic output fell by 24% in March and April. Carlaw said restarting the economy “needs ambition, imagination and an open mind” from Sturgeon.

Sturgeon said Carlaw’s suggestion the lockdown should have been eased more than two weeks ago “would have been utterly reckless and put lives at risk”.

Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, said the government had shown a lack of leadership on schools and needed to show far more agility and imagination. Willie Rennie of the Lib Dems said the continuing restrictions made it impossible for some parents to get childcare if they had to return to work.

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