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Most of Scotland’s remaining coronavirus restrictions are to be scrapped from Monday, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed, in what she hailed as “perhaps the most significant date so far” in the pandemic.
The First Minister said that from August 9 Scotland would move “beyond Level 0”, with the removal of most restrictions being made possible thanks to the “steady decline in cases” and the “success of vaccination”.
Most of the remaining legally imposed restrictions, including those on physical distancing and limits to the size of social gatherings, will be lifted.
However, events with more than 2,000 people indoors, or more than 5,000 outside, will need to apply for permission before they can take place.
Meanwhile from Monday no venues will be legally required to be closed – allowing nightclubs to finally open their doors again for the first time since March 2020.
But Ms Sturgeon told Scots the legal requirement to wear face masks will remain for “some time to come” as she also said the Scottish Government would “continue to advise home working where possible”.
While the First Minister insisted her latest coronavirus update, delivered to MSPs during a virtual sitting of the Scottish Parliament, was “positive”, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross claimed the ongoing restrictions could “hold Scotland’s recovery back”.
Mr Ross said: “Overall today’s statement is a mixed bag. It takes some welcome steps in the right direction but these ongoing restrictions will hold Scotland’s recovery back.”
He added: “We are beyond Level 0 … and still the Government is clinging on to large parts of people’s lives.
“Events still have capacity constraints, the threat of local lockdowns and travel bans remain. The Government seems to be U-turning on Covid status certification, home working is still being enforced and social distancing is in a very grey area, where the legal restriction is gone, but the guidance remains in force.”
Ms Sturgeon however insisted she was adopting a “sensible and cautious” approach to the easing of restrictions.
Doing this will “keep people as safe as possible”, she added, saying that “frankly keeping the virus under control, keeping people as safe as possible, is the best thing this Government can do for our economic recovery”.
However, business leaders at CBI Scotland said that “with so many restrictions lifting, businesses will be confused why the Scottish Government is continuing to advise people to work from home”.
Pubs, restaurants and cafes will have to continue to collect customer details for contact tracing – although the Scottish Beer and Pub Association said the changes would mean more than 200 pubs which had remained closed due to restrictions could be able to open their doors again.
Ms Sturgeon also revealed that the Government was considering “very carefully” if people should have to show their “Covid status certification” to get into “certain higher risk venues in future”.
A mobile phone app is being developed to allow those wishing to travel to prove their vaccination status, but the First Minister said this could also be used for domestic purposes “should we decide that this is appropriate”.
Other changes will mean that close contacts of those who are confirmed as having Covid-19 will no longer be automatically required to self-isolate for 10 days.
From Monday those who are double jagged will be asked to take a PCR test, and can end their isolation period if they are negative for the virus.
The same approach will also be applied to children aged between five and 17, and with youngsters returning to school later this month, Ms Sturgeon announced that the “blanket isolation of whole classes will no longer be routine”.
Instead she promised a “more targeted approach will identify close contacts at highest risk of infection”, saying this would mean that “fewer young people will have to self-isolate, and most will be asked to self-isolate for a much shorter period of time”.
However, face masks will remain in secondary schools, with both staff and students expected to wear them during lessons and when inside school buildings.
This will be kept under review, Ms Sturgeon said, but she added it was an “important protection”.
While she said the latest changes would “restore a substantial degree of normality”, the First Minister was also clear that Monday “does not signal the end of the pandemic or a return to life exactly as we knew it before Covid struck”.
She stated: “Declaring freedom from, or victory over, this virus is premature.”
While she said Monday was “perhaps the most significant date so far” in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon was adamant: “I am not going to shout freedom from this virus, because I think it misleads people, the virus is circulating, the risk of new variants is there.”
She also made clear coronavirus restrictions could have to be reimposed, warning the winter period “may well pose challenges for us”.
Her comments came as Scotland recorded a further 1,016 new cases of the virus and another nine deaths in the past 24 hours.
The latest daily figures also showed 406 people in hospital on Tuesday with recently confirmed Covid-19, with 61 patients in intensive care.