Nicola Sturgeon: ‘Meeting people indoors the most high-risk change yet’

Scotland will today enter its most “significant milestone” to date in the journey out of coronavirus lockdown with restrictions eased on people mixing indoors and outside, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

And as of next week bars, restaurants and hairdressers will be allowed to reopen, along with the country’s beleaguered tourism industry, it has been confirmed. Congregations will also be allowed to return to churches and other places of worship for services, the First Minister said yesterday.

It came as no new deaths were reported, while the number of hospital cases plunged by 121 to 646.

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“Today’s statement marks the most significant milestone yet in Scotland’s emergence from lockdown,” Ms Sturgeon told MSPs. She added: “I must stress, though, that this is one of the highest-risk changes we have made so far. We know that the risk of transmitting the virus indoors is significantly higher than it is outdoors.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announces lifting of some coronavirus lockdown rules. Picture: Fraser Bremner - WPA Pool/Getty Images

“So it is essential that we all take great care and strictly follow all of the public health advice.”

With more services reopening and people now permitted to gather with other households indoors, she stressed it is also a time of “real danger” and urged the public to keep following the rules on physical distancing, hand washing and wearing face coverings.

The R number infection rate has been between 0.6 and 0.8 for “most of the last month”. The most recent estimate is that 1,000 people in Scotland are infectious and the prevalence of the virus in Scotland is at this stage several times lower than it is across the UK as a whole, MSPs were told.

So far in Scotland, people living alone have been able to form “extended households” with one other. But the changes being implemented today mean that bigger gatherings of up to eight will be allowed indoors, which includes overnight stays.

A maximum of 15 people from up to five different households will be allowed to meet outdoors from today, as 
long as they stay two metres apart.

Between indoors and outdoors activity, adults should not meet with people from any more than four different household in any single day.

Children aged 11 and under will no longer have to socially distance from other youngsters or adults indoors or out – but older children and adults must continue to keep apart.

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Ms Sturgeon added: “People who are part of a non-cohabiting couple – regardless of their living arrangements – no longer need to stay physically distant from each other, indoors or outdoors.”

Other changes unveiled mean that, from Monday, children can enjoy contact sports and shopping centres can fully reopen.

On Wednesday, hairdressers, indoor pubs and restaurants can all restart business, and museums and galleries can open their doors once again.

On the same day, places of worship can reopen for communal prayer, congregational services and contemplation – but with restrictions on numbers, singing and chanting.

Rev Dr George Whyte, Principal Clerk of the Church of Scotland, said guidance has been prepared for parishes to decide whether to return.

“Ministers and congregations must consider carefully whether or not they should return to the church building in these early phases, depending on their own circumstances and the nature of their church, “he said.

“However, we recognise that for many the buildings themselves are an important sacred space and the opportunity to return to their place of worship, even on a limited basis, will bring spiritual and mental-health benefits.”

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Museums, galleries, cinemas and libraries can also open from Wednesday, with strict physical distancing, and for many advanced ticketing will be required.

Phase 3 is expected to last longer than the three-week duration of the previous two phases, Ms Sturgeon said yesterday. It means Scotland is just one step away from the final stage of lockdown – Phase 4 – after which all restrictions will be lifted.

The First Minister told Scots: “We should all savour our first indoor meetings and meals with friends, our first pint in a pub or catch-up over coffee. Many of us are looking forward to our first non-amateur haircut in months. And there will be other milestones and reunions that we will enjoy over the next few weeks.

“They have been hard earned by each and every one of us.”

But she also stated: “I have a duty to be crystal clear with the country that this is also a time of real danger.

“Next week represents the most substantial easing of lockdown so far.

“We know that meeting people indoors poses far greater risks than going to a park or to someone’s garden.

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She added: “Eliminating the virus as far as possible now – ahead of the almost inevitable challenges we will face come winter – remains our objective.”

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