Nicola Sturgeon to set out options for Scotland's lockdown exit

Nicola Sturgeon will unveil the “different options” being considered as part of Scotland’s phased exit from Coronavirus lockdown this week as evidence shows that hospital cases may be on the way down.

Nicola Sturgeon says the NHS has escaped being "overwhelmed"

The country’s NHS has escaped being “overwhelmed” by the pandemic with intensive care cases down by a third in recent weeks and, the First Minister said.

“We are now seeing some real signs of progress,” Ms Sturgeon said during her daily Coronavirus briefing.

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The number of people in intensive care has come down by a third in the last fortnight to a figure of 134.

Overall cases seen in Scottish hospitals have stabilised at 1762 after “rising sharply” in the first ten days of the outbreak.“The trend there may also be a downward one,” Ms Sturgeon added.

“Our NHS, while working incredibly hard and in the most difficult circumstances, has not been overwhelmed which just a few weeks ago we really feared that it might be.”

And despite the number of deaths still showing no signs of decreasing, this was always expected to the last figure to decline under the Government’s modelling.

“We hope to see that in the next couple of weeks,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“We do have evidence that the actions of all of us are taking are making a real and a positive difference.

“Your efforts are working so again I want to thank you for that.”

There were 13 new deaths in hospitals reported yesterday although this is likely to be lower as a result of the diminished rate of registrations at the weekend.

The 197 new positive tests reported yesterday was also markedly down on the 300-plus rate of recent days.

But the progress so far remains “fragile”, the SNP leader added.

“It’s certainly not a time to throw caution to the wind,” she said.

The Scottish Government published a paper on Thursday setting out how decisions on easing restrictions could be made.

“We are now thinking about the ways in which we can begin to ease the lockdown when it is safer to do so although we can’t yet put a date on any of that,” the SNP leader went on.

“Lifting lockdown will not be a flick of a switch moment, we will instead be considering gradual and careful variations.

“But it is important and necessary to do that work now.

“In the coming days I will say more about the different options under consideration and how we are going about assessing those.”

But she warned Scots that they must stick with the current restrictions “for now” in order to be able to relax the current lockdown restrictions in future.

The crucial “r” figure for Scotland which signifies the reproductive rate of the virus is less than zero which means each infected person is passing it onto fewer than one other person on average, meaning numbers begin to fall.

But Ms Sturgeon added: “At this stage even a slight easing up in the restrictions in place now could send reproduction rate above one, then the virus would then start to spread very quickly again.

“Within days of that all the indicators that are suggesting progress now would start to go in the wrong direction again.

“That would mean more cases, more hospital and intensive care admissions and sadly more deaths.”

It means all of the current restrictions are likely to remain place for some time.

“For all if us, if you’re going out and about a little bit more than you were at the start of the lockdown, then you really shouldn’t be - you might be putting

yourselves and your loved ones at risk.”

Businesses were also warned against re-starting operations again too soon amid concerns that it would just prove more harmful to the economy in the long-run if a premature return saw a second spike in numbers and an even longer shutdown imposed.

“I am acutely aware of the social and health impacts of economic damage,” the First Minister added.

Many non-essential businesses are clearly barred from opening, while others such as food producers are allowed to remain. But there are a tranche of firms which sit in the middle and concerns are mounting that many of these may opt to revive operations.

But the SNP leader urged caution.

“Our view is that you should not contemplate doing so unless you can comply fully with existing guidance and are able to change your working practices to ensure safe social distancing at all times,” she added.

“The precautionary principle that I’ve spoken about before still applies to the protection of your workers and customers.”

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government could consider easing the lockdown at a different rate in different regions of Scotland “if the evidence tells us that helps us be more effective in combating the virus”.

But her preference, she said, is for “as much consistency as possible” across the country.

The First Minister added the Scottish Government will publish guidance - possibly on Tuesday - on the use of face coverings such as scarves and bandanas, although she said the evidence for using these is “not overwhelming”.

And in a dig at US President Donald Trump, she stressed the need for decisions to be based on scientific evidence, saying: “As a leader you have a duty to inform your decision making with science.”

Ms Sturgeon said: “If you don’t inform your decision making by the best science then you end up standing at a podium suggesting that people should perhaps drink disinfectant or inject disinfectant.”

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