In a briefing, the First Minister said that she hoped to outline next Tuesday whether further lockdown easing to Level 0 could go ahead, although she said she was “more optimistic” than she would have been last week, due to an apparent slowing in cases.
However, she said that the wearing of face masks and social distancing could continue north of the border well after all other legal restrictions are lifted, in stark contrast to England, where all restrictions are set to be abolished on 19 July.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross claimed the latest statement has only created a potential “Level 0.5” and will cause more uncertainty about what restrictions will actually be lifted.
Mr Ross said: “This latest briefing from the First Minister has only helped to create further uncertainty for individuals and businesses and has left them in a state of limbo. Her language which hinted some restrictions might not be lifted is completely unhelpful.
“Nicola Sturgeon has already said that these dates are not set in stone. Other SNP Ministers have also failed to give a concrete guarantee over the easing of restrictions on 19 July or have suggested they might be pushed back, if the Covid situation worsens. She has now potentially created a Level 0.5 in her own routemap, which undermines the plans she outlined only a few weeks ago. People and businesses who are continuing to make sacrifices are understandably excited about what restrictions will be eased in less than a fortnight.”
He added: “She must urgently avoid any further ambiguity and ensure that Scotland safely moves to level 0 as outlined in the SNP’s routemap.
“A failure to do so would be an admission that the SNP have lost control of the virus by failing to vaccinate people quickly enough, letting test and protect get overwhelmed and allowing Scotland to become the Covid capital of Europe.”
Ms Sturgeon also said she worried that 19 July – dubbed “Freedom Day” in England, when all restrictions are set to be lifted – could affect people's behaviour in Scotland.
She said: "It is absolutely true that we can't live our restricted way of life forever, because that in itself affects our health and well being. And it's also true for me that vaccines are offering an alternative way forward. However, that desire to ‘just live with it’ cannot be that we simply throw caution to the wind.
Ms Sturgeon said that the government had a responsibility to protect yet-unvaccinated younger people, who although less likely to need hospital treatment, are at risk of Long Covid.
She said: “Even though the majority of cases around are in younger people who are much less likely to be ill, many young people are suffering from Long Covid, which of course, experts don't really understand. So it would be wrong and irresponsible - as young people are not guinea pigs – to have no concern at all about young people being infected with this virus.”
She said “the pressure is always there for Scotland to follow suit” when England lifts restrictions earlier – but warned that messaging could become confused.
She said: “While I totally understand the desire for us to follow suit in every single respect, we have to think carefully about the steps we do take at this juncture. My goal is not to take the easy decisions in a quest for popularity. It is to do what I think is most likely to keep the country as safe as possible as we get to the end of vaccination programme.”
She added: “There's always been a worry that for reasons that different governments are happy to justify, we're going at different paces and do things in a slightly different order, then, the sheer domination often of the coverage for England into Scotland can confuse the messaging here and perhaps give people the idea that things are being advised that have not been advised.”
Ms Sturgeon also gave an update on the daily figures, announcing Scotland has recorded four deaths of coronavirus patients in the past 24 hours and 2,802 new cases.
The death toll under this daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – is now 7,744.
The daily test positivity rate is 8 per cent, down from 10 per cent the previous day.
A total of 401 people were in hospital on Tuesday with recently confirmed Covid-19, up 14 in 24 hours, with 38 patients in intensive care, up four.
So far, 3,800,864 people have received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and 2,825,886 have had their second.
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon insisted Scotland’s contact tracing system was still coping despite falling below World Health Organisation (WHO) standards for the past two weeks.
Test and Protect only managed to reach 65.1 per cent of infected people’s close contacts within 72 hours in the week ending June 27 and 73.1 per cent the following week – both below the WHO target of 80 per cent.
The First Minister admitted contact tracing “fell below” the desired standard and blamed the surge in case numbers for putting pressure on the system.
But Ms Sturgeon said she believed that “over the last few days the performance of Test and Protect has started to go up again”, thanks in part to changes in how it operates.
Contact tracers no longer have to try and reach secondary contacts and texting rather than calling has become the default for all but the most complex and high-risk cases.
She said: “Test and Protect has been operating really well and is still operating well, but it’s always going to be under pressure when cases rise because the volume of work that is doing increases and we flex the resources there to cope with that.”