Nicola Sturgeon announces new 'rule of four' in relaxation around outdoor gatherings as communal worship also to return

A new ‘rule of four’ will be in place from Friday in the first relaxation of social gathering rules since the start of the second national lockdown, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

Addressing Holyrood at her weekly Covid-19 update to MSPs on Tuesday, the First Minister announced that rules around social gatherings would be relaxed.

Ms Sturgeon also announced a national silence is planned for March 23 to mark a year since the start of the first lockdown and to commemorate those killed by Covid-19.

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The First Minister also confirmed a further possible case of the Brazil variant of the virus in Scotland, connected to an individual who few to Scotland from Rio de Janeiro via Paris and arrived on February 19.

People will be able to meet up with up to four people from two different households, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

She said the passenger had followed the rules around hotel quarantine and added there was no sign of any onward community transmission, with contact tracing ongoing for other individuals on the flight.

Ms Sturgeon said in addition to the relaxations announced today, a firmer outlook for Scotland’s journey out of lockdown will be set out next week in Holyrood.

From Friday, the new rules will see up to four adults from up to two households able to meet outdoors, including in private gardens.

People will be able to go inside to use the toilet or to access gardens in a return to measures similar to the pre-Christmas ‘rule of six’.

The First Minister also announced that communal worship is set to return on Friday, March 26, with a final decision to be made three days earlier.

This would see churches, synagogues and mosques reopen in time for major religious festivals around the Easter period.

Announcing the changes, Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament: “We realise that meeting up – even outdoors – can be hugely beneficial to our wellbeing.

"From Friday, therefore, we intend to relax the law so that up to four adults from up to two households will be able to meet outdoors.

“And, in addition, we will make clear in our guidance that this will allow for social and recreational purposes, as well as essential exercise.

“Meeting will be possible in any outdoor space, including private gardens, but please do stick to the new rules.

"Gatherings must be a maximum of four people from two households. And you should only go indoors if that is essential in order to reach a back garden or to use the toilet and, for now, please stay as close to home as possible.”

Teenagers will be given more leeway. Four people aged between 12 and 17 will be able to meet even if they are all from different households under the changes.

The First Minister said: “This will hopefully allow young people to see more of their friends than is currently the case."

Outdoor non-contact sports and organised group exercise will be permitted for all adults from Friday, Ms Sturgeon also announced, with groups limited to a maximum of 15 people.

There will also be “some” flexibility around travel restrictions for sport outside of local authority areas to allow children allowed to travel to take part in sport.

Ms Sturgeon said: “These are minor changes, but they are important.

“They have also been made possible by the hard sacrifices the majority of people across the country have made and we will seek to build on them as quickly as possible in the weeks ahead.”

Ms Sturgeon also announced the return of communal worship from March 26.

The new rules will allow people to attend places of worship, with the limit on attendance numbers rising from 20 to 50.

She said: “This is in time for Passover, Easter, Ramadan and Vaisakhi.

“In addition, the limit on attendance at communal services will be increased from 20, which was the limit in place before lockdown, to 50 – assuming of course that a place of worship is spacious enough to accommodate that many people with 2 metre physical distancing.

“I know that the restrictions on communal worship have been difficult for many people, despite the exceptional efforts made by faith groups to reach out to their communities.

“This change again is relatively minor, is a proportionate step, and we believe it can be achieved relatively safely, and will hopefully enable more people to draw strength, comfort and inspiration from acts of collective worship.”

The First Minister was also pressed on the plans for some in-school learning to resume for older pupils from March 15.

Scottish Conservative leader in Holyrood, Ruth Davidson, hit out at current plans, which will see some pupils receive as little as half a day’s schooling a week.

Labelling the plans as “less than billed”, the Edinburgh Central MSP raised concerns from parents the situation was “clearly ridiculous”.

She said: “Pupils and parents were promised a return to the classroom, but in the information they are now getting sent, it is clear that for many this will only amount to a few hours a week at best.

"Can the First Minister look those parents in the eye and say that this is the significant progress that she has claimed?”

Responding, Ms Sturgeon said she would always look parents in the eye to explain the “difficult challenges” faced by the Scottish Government.

She said pupils returning now was a “significant change” and that it was the “intention” there would be a full return to schools after the Easter holidays.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar pushed the First Minister on whether there should be “vaccine prioritisation” for frontline workers such as teachers and police officers.

Ms Sturgeon replied, saying those in these sectors would “progressively be done” as the vaccination rollout continues.

She said if the Scottish Government deviated from official guidance, it would likely face accusations of making a political rather than clinical decision.

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