Analysis: Did need for 'good news' spark Nicola Sturgeon's restriction relaxation?

Despite the cold snap of recent days, the decision to lift lockdown more quickly in Scotland will have been greeted positively by many.

Nicola Sturgeon claims the decision to allow up to six people from six households to meet outside and to lift restrictions on travel inside Scotland from Friday has nothing to do with the Holyrood election on May 6.

But there are question marks over why the First Minister has moved more quickly than previously set out based on the data alone.

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Scotland lockdown easing: Nicola Sturgeon announces early lifting of travel rest...
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced Scotland's lockdown is to be lifted more quickly than anticipated.

Compared to when Scotland came out of lockdown last year, albeit without the additional benefit of the successful vaccination programme, it took until test positivity was extremely low before restrictions were eased.

The closest to the new rule – six people from six households – of three people from eight households was only in place from June 19 with a test positivity rate of 0.6 per cent and average case numbers down to 20 a day.

On March 16, when Ms Sturgeon outlined the route out of lockdown, the rolling seven day average for test positivity was at 3.2 per cent.

It has since halved to 1.6 per cent, with the seven day average for positive cases dropping from 577 to 270.

This is undeniably within the criteria set by the World Health Organisation of a pandemic ‘under control’, but when compared to the lockdown easing in 2020 following the first national lockdown, the move is much faster.

The First Minister will no doubt be asked to justify what, if it is not an impending election, is guiding and driving her decision making.

Political pressure of the sight of pubs reopening to the public in England alongside the reopening of non-essential retail may have driven the desire to announce some ‘good news’ in a week none was in the offing.

The SNP may also have felt a need to move to the Covid-19 news agenda on from health secretary Jeane Freeman’s now admitted mistake of positive Covid discharges into care homes.

Scots have been repeatedly warned of the risks of opening up too quickly.

Given that is no longer the route being taken by Ms Sturgeon in the middle of an election, she can expect calls to offer a justification as to why beyond simply “encouraging data”.

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