Scotland coronavirus lockdown announcement: Two million Scots braced for Level 4

Parts of Scotland could be placed in Level 4 restrictions this week to give more flexibility for “limited and careful” easing of the rules over Christmas, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister said her Cabinet will make decisions today on any changes to where councils are in Scotland’s five-tier system of coronavirus measures.

Officials are considering whether current restrictions are reducing coronavirus rates quickly enough in some areas, “particularly in parts of the west of Scotland that have a stable but still stubbornly high prevalence of the virus”.

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She spoke about the issue as she revealed Scotland had recorded six deaths from coronavirus and 717 positive cases in the past 24 hours.

A sign advising customers about the spread of coronavirus outside a shop in Stirling.A sign advising customers about the spread of coronavirus outside a shop in Stirling.
A sign advising customers about the spread of coronavirus outside a shop in Stirling.
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The First Minister told the Scottish Government's coronavirus briefing the stubbornly high rates are causing concern as it means there is not the required level of assurance that regional hospital and intensive care services can cope as winter progresses.

"Stubbornly high prevalence means that we might have less flexibility to offer some limited and careful easing of restrictions over the Christmas period which we are very keen to do," she said.

"Moving to Level 4 restrictions for a limited period in some areas, while not a decision we would ever take lightly because of the wider economic and social impact, would help us to address both of these concerns."

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Any Level 4 restrictions placed on local authorities are intended to be for a "short time", the First Minister said.

Non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and all other hospitality will close in level 4 areas, but Ms Sturgeon said it is her "objective and intention" to ensure schools remain open.

Ms Sturgeon added: "We don't take lightly issues of school safety." The First Minister said she has asked adults to bear more of the restrictions to ensure schools are able to remain open for face-to-face teaching.

She added: "Young people have had months out of school already this year and if we can at all avoid it we want to ensure that they don't have further time out of normal full-time schooling."

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Her comments came after a parents’ campaign group said schools in level four areas must stay open despite threats of “safety strikes” from Scotland’s biggest teaching union the EIS.

But Jo Bisset, organiser for UsForThem Scotland, said: “The EIS and certain politicians are pointing to increased absences, but the vast majority of these cases feature healthy children who should still be in school.

“It’s an entirely manufactured picture, and the Scottish Government should stick to its word and keep schools open as normal, even in tier four council areas.

“We know there are influential groups who’ve wanted schools shut right from the start and now strike action is being used as another tactic to force this through.

“All of this serves to damage the wellbeing and prospects of children. Schools are and should be considered critical infrastructure."

UsForThem Scotland, which now has almost 12,000 members, points to a survey among its own members suggesting most children have not been forced to self-isolate since schools returned – and most of those who were sent home never developed symptoms.

Ms Bisset said: “Blended learning was, at best, a farce. For many in the poorest areas, it cast children adrift from an education system which they’re now unlikely to catch up with.

"How anyone can think this is good for society, the attainment gap or mental health is an absolute mystery.”

Jobs plea

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Meanwhile Scotland's gambling industry has pleaded for casinos to be allowed to reopen in Level 2 rather than Level 1 of the country's five-tier system of restrictions.

Operators Grosvenor Casinos, Genting Casinos, Caesars Entertainment and the Betting and Gaming Council trade association have launched a petition urging changes to the framework.

The industry representatives claim up to 700 jobs could be at risk of redundancy if the restrictions continue as they are.

Casinos are now allowed to be open on the islands and in Moray and Highland - the only local authorities in Level 1.

People are invited to sign the Chips Are Down: Save Our Casinos, Save Our Jobs petition the industry that will be sent to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The petition states: "Since reopening, our local casino has gone out of its way to ensure that we can continue to visit it in the safest way possible."Along with scrupulous hygiene measures, PPE equipment and social distancing mitigations, Scottish casinos have invested hundreds of thousands of pounds to ensure that venues are Covid-19 secure."

The Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher argued casinos should be treated like pubs and restaurants that can open indoors for the consumption of food and non-alcoholic drinks at Level 2, as well as alcoholic drinks if served with a main meal.

The former MP said: "Casinos in Scotland safely reopened in August, with excellent anti-Covid measures in place, and there is absolutely no evidence that they contribute to the spread of (coronavirus).

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"Closing them makes no sense, especially when other parts of the hospitality sector are being allowed to stay open.

"That's why the industry is rallying together to urge the Scottish Government to think again, remove casinos from Level 2 and let them get back to business."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We are committed to ensuring no restriction is in place a moment longer than necessary to protect public health and reduce transmission of the virus.

"We will continue to build on our constructive dialogue with the industry and listen to their experiences and concerns as we move through the crisis.

"We are doing everything we can with the powers we have to help businesses, offering support which now exceeds £2.3 billion and provides grants to businesses required by law to close."

Ms Sturgeon also revealed one local authority will have reduced restrictions in today’s announcement.

Giving a further update on the daily coronavirus figures, Ms Sturgeon said the number of positive cases in the previous 24 hours was lower than expected and is being examined.

The daily test positivity rate was 8.3 per cent up from 7.2 per cent on Sunday, and of the new cases, 220 were in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 136 in Lanarkshire, and 101 in Lothian.

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There were 1,227 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, a fall of 14 in 24 hours.

Of these patients, 98 are in intensive care, down by two.

The death toll of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days is now 3,286.