Nicola Sturgeon warns no more lockdown easing likely until schools return

Nicola Sturgeon has warned she may not ease current coronavirus restrictions as Scotland moves into the next phase of lockdown next week – in order for children to return to school full-time next month.

In the latest split with guidelines in England ,where a return to offices is now being encouraged, the First Minister said Scots must continue to work from home where possible.

At her daily coronavirus briefing yesterday, Ms Sturgeon said the full-time return of schools on 11 August is likely to be confirmed next week along with the easing of restrictions for Scots in the “shielded” category. But a pause in any further relaxations is likely until these happen.

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The Scottish Government is scheduled to review the Phase 3 stage of its lockdown exit next week, at which point Ms Sturgeon had been expected to set out plans to move to phase four.

Nicola Sturgeon set out a "note of caution" today

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However, the SNP leader warned that the scale of recent changes which have seen the return of the tourism and hospitality sector, as well as shops reopening, means more time is needed for their impact to be assessed.

“Now is the right time to inject a note of caution about what we might expect for the next few weeks,” Ms Sturgeon said.

She warned that phase three will last “considerably longer” than the three weeks of previous phases and pointed to the outbreak at the Sitel call centre in Lanarkshire as an example of how the virus can flare up.

This is likely to spell bad news for Scots seeking to get back to gyms and swimming pools who had been optimistic of a date for their return being set out next week. Live venues for music and theatre, as well as bingo halls, are also facing a prolonged absence.

“Our main focus right now, and I think it is a priority that will have widespread agreement across the country, is on keeping the virus at a low enough level to enable schools to fully and safely reopen from 11 August,” Ms Sturgeon added.

“That would be a further significant change, and in addition to that we said already that if possible we would like to remove the requirement of shielding from 31 July.”

“These two priorities will only be achieved if levels of Covid in the community remain low.”

Ms Sturgeon said: “I want to flag up now that it is possible that we may not be able to make any changes next week beyond confirming the return of schooling and a pause to shielding.”

The warning came as the Scottish Conservatives stepped up calls for Ms Sturgeon to make a commitment now to the return of full-time schooling, with Deputy First Minister

John Swinney preparing to make a statement at Holyrood later today on the issue.

“This SNP government must now finally listen to parents and commit today to reopen schools full-time next term, as was promised,” Tory education spokesman Jamie Greene said. “Schools and families need to know now if they are going back to school or not.”

He added: “The time for ambiguity and dither quite simply is over.”

Ms Sturgeon also warned home working must remain the norm for Scots who are able to do so, ruling out a return to offices which is now being endorsed in England.

She said: “I want to underline that the UK government’s encouragement that those who can work from home in England to nevertheless return to workplaces doesn’t yet apply in Scotland.”

The Scottish Government is shortly expected to publish new guidance on working, but the outbreak over the past week at the Sitel call centre in Lanarkshire was described by

Ms Sturgeon as a “salutary reminder” of how easily Covid-19 can spread.

“Our position remains, therefore, that non-essential offices and call centres should remain closed until we judge it is safe to make what will be a significant change for Scotland.”

The latest figures show that there were just ten new positive cases in Scotland over the past 24 hours and no deaths from the virus. Separate statistics from the National

Records of Scotland show six deaths linked to Covid-19, where it was recorded on a death certificate, occurred between July 13 and July 19, down seven from 13 the previous week. This is the lowest weekly toll since coronavirus deaths in Scotland began in March and the 12th week in a row that the number of deaths has fallen.

The figures were revealed as several restrictions in place since the lockdown began four months ago were lifted.

Make-up and nail salons, spas, tattoo parlours, dress fitters, tailors, indoor photography studios and shoe fitters are all now allowed to reopen. Universities and colleges can begin a phased return to on-campus learning.

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