Scots must accept life alongside Covid-19 as new normal – Sturgeon | UK news

Scotland must establish a new normal of “living alongside” coronavirus, Nicola Sturgeon has said, as the Scottish government published its framework for moving beyond current restrictions that presented a future cycle of lockdown being lifted, then reimposed “with little notice”, potentially until a vaccine has been found.

Announcing daily data indicating a continuing drop in hospital admissions and intensive care cases, Sturgeon on Thursday urged the Scottish public to read and respond to the 26-page document, which stresses that Scotland may break with the current “four-nations approach” if expert advice recommends this.

The document places testing, tracing and isolation at the heart of the continuing strategy, and emphasises the need for innovative approaches to continued physical distancing as well as “unprecedented” public compliance.

“If, after easing any restrictions, the evidence tells us we are unable to contain the transmission of the virus, then we will have to reimpose them, possibly returning to lockdown with little notice. While we will do our best to avoid this, it is possible that such a cycle may happen more than once until we reach a point when we have in place an effective vaccine,” it states.

Scotland graph

Sturgeon said the lifting of the lockdown was not “a flick of a switch”, telling reporters that physical distancing and limited contact with others was likely to continue “for the rest of the year and maybe beyond”. She said group gatherings, for example in pubs or at public events, were likely to be banned or restricted for some months to come, and that some form of shielding would be required for the foreseeable future as well as “stronger surveillance for those coming into the country”.

The first minister also raised the prospect of redesigning workplaces and schools to allow people to remain two metres apart, with the possibility of some groups of pupils returning before others or on different days of the week.

Asked whether these long-term restrictions were likely to affect family Christmas celebrations, Sturgeon said: “I’m not cancelling Christmas. Christmas is still a quite a long way away – I know it comes round quicker every year.”

“It may happen slightly differently depending on where we are, but we will take these things in a calm, considered way,” she added.


The document says the Scottish government will assess easing restrictions for specific geographies and sectors, for example parts of the rural economy, and others able to work outdoors. This would happen only if it did not undermine the “simplicity of the message”, Sturgeon said.

It likewise drives home the importance of stabilising below 1.0 the virus’s reproduction number (R0), which indicates how many new cases one infected person generates, and ensuring that the impact of any easing of restrictions did not raise the number above that figure.

Sturgeon said when the lockdown began, Scotland’s R0 was above 3, while the best estimates suggested it was now between 0.6 to 1. She said the continuing uncertainty over the infection rate was part of the reason why she was not lifting restrictions immediately. Scotland’s interim chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, also would not specify an exact figure he wanted to see the number stabilise at, saying that in principle it should be “as low as possible”.

The document also raises the prospect of using digital tools to assist contact tracing, and while it does not directly refer to the controversial approach of “herd immunity”, it says that there is no such thing as “acceptable loss”, adding: “We are clear that an assumption that there is a proportion or section of the population that it is safe or acceptable to allow to be infected forms no part of the Scottish government’s policy or approach.”

While the document is clear that Scotland could take a different path from the rest of the UK if the science requires it, Sturgeon said: “Most of what I’m talking about today I want to do on a UK-wide basis as far as it makes sense, but I have a responsibility as first minster to use the powers I have in a way that is right for Scotland.”

No 10 said there was no indication so far that the “four-nation approach” of the UK towards tackling the virus was crumbling. Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “As far as I’m aware, the Scottish government have stressed they want to continue to operate within the four-nations UK framework and align any decisions which are taken as far as possible. That is obviously the approach of ourselves.”

Responding to the publication, the Scottish conservative leader, Jackson Carlaw, said any divergence from the four-nations strategy on ending the lockdown would require compelling evidence, “in the interests of ensuring clear and consistent advice to the public”.

In contrast, the Scottish Greens co-convenor, Patrick Harvie, said he welcomed the “recognition that a one-size-fits-all exit strategy for the UK was inappropriate”, but warned that far more detail was needed on plans for an effective testing, tracing and isolation strategy, “especially when Scotland is not using the testing capacity it currently has”.

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