Will there be another lockdown in Scotland? What will happen to Covid restrictions after 9 August Freedom Day
The Scottish Government is preparing to move the country to Level 0 this month, followed by easing remaining legal coronavirus restrictions in August - so will that be the end of lockdown rules for good?
After that, normality may be on the horizon, with the government aiming to ease most of the rest of the legal measures on so-called “Freedom Day” on 9 August - if all goes to plan.
While some rules could stay - like mask-wearing in certain settings - there is cautious optimism that this coronavirus lockdown will be the last.
But as infections continue to surge in Scotland - the country currently has the highest virus rates in Europe - many are wondering whether winter restrictions will be on the cards.
So, will there be another lockdown?
Here’s what’s been said so far.
Will there be another lockdown in Scotland?
It’s not long now until Scots will be afforded greater freedoms.
From 19 July, it is expected that the areas of the country which are not already in Level 0 will move to the lowest grade of restrictions, allowing for the limits on gatherings to increase, large events to restart and more hospitality restrictions to be eased.
After that, remaining legal restrictions could be scrapped on 9 August, paving the way to almost complete normality.
Even though this proposed date could be brought forward or pushed back, depending on the pandemic situation in Scotland, many will be hoping that will be the end of Covid lockdowns for good as the vaccine continues to weaken the link between rising cases and hospitalisations.
However, there is mounting concern that a winter lockdown could be implemented if the Covid situation worsens.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has refused to rule out the return of restrictions in the colder months if deaths begin to increase.
He warned that the emergence of any new variants which were able to resist the vaccine could impact the return to normality.
Speaking to the Sunday Mail at the end of June, the health secretary said: “The tool we have now is the vaccination programme and we hope to have every adult double dosed by the end of September.
“We know this is weakening the link between rising cases and hospitalisations. I would hope in that context there will not be the need to impose further restrictions like a lockdown in the winter.
“The giant caveat, however, is I can’t tell you with certainty there won’t be a variant that comes into the country that will be immune to the vaccine.
“If you are asking me for a cast-iron guarantee that isn’t going to happen in the winter, I couldn’t give you that.”
Will the easing of restrictions be ‘irreversible’?
MSPs have largely avoided saying this lockdown is the last one, in stark contrast to Boris Johnson who has repeatedly maintained that the lifting of restrictions in England in summer will be “irreversible”.
Yet scientists have warned further lockdowns could be a possibility in the UK this winter.
Professor Calum Semple, a member of SAGE which advises the UK Government, warned the country will see a “pretty miserable winter” as children and elderly people will be vulnerable to endemic viruses.
He said experts were predicting a “rough July, August and a rough winter period” for that reason.
Dr Susan Hopkins, the strategic response director for Covid at Public Health England (PHE), said a possible rise in cases at the end of the year could result in more shut downs if hospitals become inundated with patients.
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, she said: “We may have to do further lockdowns this winter, I can’t predict the future, it really depends on whether the hospitals start to become overwhelmed at some point.
“But I think we will have alternative ways to manage this, through vaccination, through anti-virals, through drugs, through testing that we didn’t have last winter.
“All of those things allow us different approaches rather than restrictions on livelihoods that will move us forward into the next phase of learning to live with this as an endemic that happens as part of the respiratory viruses.”
Meanwhile, Professor Devi Sridhar, the Chair of Global Public Health at Edinburgh University Medical School, called the thought of a winter lockdown “unthinkable”.
She stressed the importance of getting “things in order now” in order to lower the chances of further restrictions this year.
“Another lockdown in winter would be unthinkable,” Prof Sridhar wrote on Twitter.
“We must get things in order now instead of accepting rises in hospitalizations and then lockdown as inevitable.”
But the public health expert went on to say vaccines, testing and isolation measures should mean more blanket measures can be avoided.
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