Scots to get more outdoors time as lockdown is eased

Nicola Sturgeon has hinted she may be ready to ease lockdown restrictions on exercising in Scotland to ensure a four-nations approach is adopted.

But she insisted that she would not be “pressurised” into lifting other restrictions on beer gardens, returning to work and the use of public transport, and called for the “Stay at Home” message from government to be retained.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson later told the First Minister that different parts of the UK may move out of lockdown at “slightly different speeds”, during a call between the two leaders.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Johnson spoke on the phone yesterday ahead of a crucial three days that will culminate in a nationwide address by the Prime Minister on Sunday evening.

People will be allowed outdoors to exercise more. Picture: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Mr Johnson will set out a detailed plan for easing social distancing measures, with milestones for each stage and guidance for individuals and businesses.

There is mounting speculation that rules will be loosened for outdoor activity, potentially allowing people to spend unlimited time outside exercising or relaxing, provided that social distancing guidelines are followed.

Reports suggest the UK Government is also considering allowing outdoor sports venues such as golf courses and tennis courts to reopen, and even permitting outdoor pavement seating in cafés.

The “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” slogan that has been prominent in all government communications is also set to be replaced by one that focuses on telling the public to “stay safe”.

But with data suggesting Scotland is behind other parts of the UK in the progress of the outbreak, with a reproduction rate below the crucial figure of one, but higher than 
elsewhere, the First Minister has struck a more cautious tone.

Yesterday she insisted that ditching the Stay at Home message would be “catastrophic” in the battle against the virus.

A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said after yesterday’s call: “The First Minister reiterated to the Prime Minister that the lockdown regulations in Scotland would remain in place and that the only issue under consideration at this time was in relation to outdoor exercise.

“The First Minister also made clear that the Stay at Home message remained crucial. While no specific detail of the plans under consideration by the UK Government was shared, the Prime Minister confirmed that there would be further discussion ahead of a meeting of Cobra on Sunday.”

A spokesman for Mr Johnson insisted the call reflected the UK Government’s continued commitment to a UK-wide approach.

But the spokesman said that “if different parts of the UK begin to move at slightly different speeds ... those decisions will be made based on the science for each nation”.

In a further signal that Scotland could be set on a different path from the rest of the UK on Sunday, the Scottish Government has written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak to insist that Scots who have been furloughed from their jobs are not penalised if they remain under lockdown for longer.

Speaking at the daily press briefing in Edinburgh yesterday, Ms Sturgeon said: “It is my preference if possible for all four UK nations to make changes together at the same pace because that certainly helps us give clear consistent messages to the public.”

But she added: “I must make judgments informed by the evidence that is right and safe for Scotland. I will not be pressured into lifting restrictions prematurely and before I’m as certain as we can be that we will not be risking a resurgence of infection.”

Ms Sturgeon warned that moves to encourage people back to work, reopen beer gardens and make greater use of public transport would not be replicated in Scotland.

The First Minister said these “would not in my judgment be safe for us to make yet”. 

The latest coronavirus figures for Scotland show a total of 1,762 patients have died after testing positive for the virus, up by 59 from 1,703 on Wednesday.

The First Minister said 12,924 people have now tested positive for the virus in Scotland, up by 215 from 12,709 the day before.

There are 86 people in intensive care with coronavirus or symptoms, a decrease of three on Wednesday.

There are also 1,587 patients in hospital with the virus, a fall of 45.

Since 5 March, 2,954 people who have tested positive for coronavirus have been able to leave hospital.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer yesterday backed a “four-nation” approach to exiting lockdown together.

“The strong preference on my part is that this is done across the UK as a whole – that was the approach going into lockdown, it has to be the approach coming out of lockdown, but the priority has to be on protecting lives and the health of the population in Scotland and across the UK,” he told a virtual meeting with activists in Glasgow.

Sir Keir added: “The risk of not doing everything a the same time means different rules for different places, which makes it much more difficult to police.

“If the restrictions are lifted in one area, which meant you could travel across borders, then it’s very hard to see how you could have separate regimes in countries or regions.

“We should go cautiously, putting the protection of lives as the priority, and if at all possible it should be a four-nations approach.

“It’s very important we build a national consensus of what happens next and that means the Prime Minister has to involve the devolved administrations, the trade unions and civic society and opposition parties in a very meaningful way.”

Ms Sturgeon had earlier said: “Of the changes that are proposed, there is only one that I may – and I stress at this stage may – be prepared to agree to in the immediate future.

“That is the change in guidance limiting outdoor exercise to once a day only. That is currently, as you know, one of the limited number of reasons that you are permitted to leave home.”


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.