End of level four lockdown date 'unknown' says Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon has said she does not know when the majority of Scotland will be able to come out of level four Covid-19 restrictions after Christmas but said there is still a chance to keep the virus under control.

Nicola Sturgeon said she does not know how long level four restrictions will be imposed in Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon said she does not know how long level four restrictions will be imposed in Scotland

The First Minister, speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing, said “I don’t know” in response to questions about how long the strict restrictions would last.

Most of Scotland bar Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and other selected islands will enter level four on Boxing Day for a minimum of three weeks.

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The restrictions, the closest in severity to the full lockdown imposed in March, will be reviewed after two weeks but Ms Sturgeon gave no guarantee that is when they would be lifter for all or part of the country.

She also came under pressure to provide more clarity around when in-person schooling would resume and around potential support for businesses affected by the instruction to close.

It came as the First Minister said the risk of the newly identified variant of Covid-19 spreading from the south-east of England to Scotland was “very real” but there is still a chance to keep it “under control”.

Matt Hancock, the UK Government’s health secretary had said the new, more infectious strain was “out of control”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “If we do nothing now, we are likely to see more new infections in Scotland as a result of this variant – placing an even greater strain on our health service, and leading to more deaths.

“But as things stand, with our lower prevalence in a relative sense, we still have a chance of keeping this situation under control while the vaccination programme continues – and while we get case numbers back to very low levels again.”

When asked how long the level four restrictions might last, the First Minister said the three weeks of restrictions and compliance levels were key for their duration.

She said: “The honest answer is I don’t know at this stage. I’ve tried all along when that is the honest answer to a question to give that answer.

"We are still waiting on further analysis of this new variant, the more successful we can be over these next few weeks at suppressing it in Scotland than perhaps the shorter the time some of these restrictions will have to be in place.

"But we will have to see how things unfold in the next few weeks.”

Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at Edinburgh University and one of the First Minister’s advisers, criticised the levels approach on social media.

She said the tiers system in both Scotland and England had created a “perverse system” where the public search for “loopholes”.

Prof Sridhar said: “Creation of complex rules (with number of people, households, exceptions), varying by tiers has created a perverse system where people look for loopholes.

"Instead, focus on why the virus is risky, what we can all do to avoid getting it and passing it on, and the underlying science.

"Simply: transmits in indoor, poorly ventilated and crowded settings. Don’t go into other people’s homes. Keep distance, meet outside and err on the side of caution.

"While older/vulnerable more at risk of dying, younger people can get seriously ill. Russian roulette with health.”

Ms Sturgeon also urged people not to meet members of others households indoors on Christmas Day, despite the tightened restrictions announced on Saturday allowing three households to a maximum of eight people aged 12 and over to do so for that day only, instead of the five days previously outlined.

Labelling the decision to limit interaction over the festive period “horrible”, she said the consequences of not acting “could be catastrophic”.

A total of 1,504 people were confirmed as having the virus in Scotland with no additional deaths reported in the last 24 hours

Ms Sturgeon said finance minister Kate Forbes will also review business support available in the coming weeks.

On Saturday, the First Minister also announced the closure of schools until January 11 for most of Scotland’s children apart from those whose parents are key workers, with online learning until January 18.

Ms Sturgeon repeatedly stressed online teaching would remain in place “at least” until that date, with the potential for an extension.

The move was questioned by Scottish Conservative education spokesperson Jamie Greene who called on the Scottish Government to “immediately clarify” plans for schools in Holyrood in an answer to a topical question.

He said: “While everyone accepts the situation surrounding coronavirus is a moving picture, the SNP Government are leaving parents in the dark over what will be happening in the new year.

“Little detail has been given as to why education has been put on hold and how on earth parents are expected to work when their childcare options have been taken away.

“There is no good reason why all pupils cannot return to some form of learning from January 5 as was originally planned, more so given the huge loss of teaching that so many have already suffered.

“John Swinney must immediately clarify plans for schools, nurseries and childcare and give much needed reassurance that pupils will not be left behind in a further postcode lottery of education.”

Speaking at the daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon said the public health advice meant schools could be open this week but not post-Christmas.

She said: “We’ve taken account of all the public health advice, the overall situation we are in, and we think that phased approach into the Christmas period is a reasonable one with the restrictions that I set out on Saturday being progressively, from now through the week and into the weekend, coming in.

"We can do that, we think, because of this low prevalence. But we can’t take longer than that.

"These are finely balanced judgements that we have come to that we think help to manage the whole period, the whole situation, as carefully as we can.”

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