Speaking at the Scottish Government daily briefing, Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland’s routemap out of lockdown was “broadly in line” with those of Wales and Northern Ireland, but accepted there were differences.
On Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon announced to MSPs that restrictions on care home visits would be eased in early March, along with a phased reopening of schools, and a relaxation of outdoor mixing rules, by the middle of the month.
If Scotland’s infection rates continue to fall, Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament, there would be a “phased but significant” re-opening of the economy in the last week of April.
Addressing reporters on Wednesday afternoon, the First Minister admitted that the plans “are roughly two weeks behind the plans for England,” but insisted that the cautious approach had paid in the past.
"It’s worth pointing out that last year,” she said, “as we came out of lockdown, the dates we set then were also a little behind those in England - and it caused the same understandable frustrations in some quarters - but looking back, our approach enabled more of the country to remain open and trading for longer before new restrictions became necessary."
She added: "That underlines what I really strongly feel must be the priority now - getting to a sustainable position that protects people’s lives, and protects the NHS, but also gives people and business the opportunity to rebuild and recover without hopefully facing further shutdowns."
Her comments come after criticism from business chiefs who said the delay in reopening put Scottish businesses at a disadvantage compared to English rivals.
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “"With no international tourism likely for some time, there is greater dependency on Scotland’s ability to attract tourism from within the UK and we need to provide a degree of reassurance that their bookings can be accommodated,” he said. “Our tourism industry is not able to accept bookings with confidence – not all will wait for our sector to gradually re-open to book.
"We’ve seen the huge spike in bookings from England for foreign travel over the last 24 hours and there is a great fear that Scotland’s tourism industry will lose out in what could have been a buoyant summer season.”
He added: “Given that Scotland will now be opening behind England, there is an even greater need for a marketing campaign to boost late summer and autumn bookings and ensure that Scotland’s tourism industry isn’t disadvantaged in the long term.”
At the same time, Scottish Hospitality Group spokesperson Stephen Montgomery said the Government seemed “hell-bent on following a precautionary approach that’s not backed up by evidence”.
“It’s extremely frustrating for operators in Scotland to be looking at their counterparts in England who are finally able to start preparing for a return to normality with greater certainty,” he said.
"And if the Government’s plan is to kick proper decisions down the road because of the election, then that is unacceptable to everyone in our sector.”