Nicola Sturgeon has announced that the requirement to wear masks in certain indoor settings and public transport will be extended for another two weeks.
“I know this will be disappointing for businesses and service providers,” she said. “However, ensuring continued widespread use of face coverings will provide some additional protection – particularly for the most vulnerable – at a time when the risk of infection is very high, and it may help us get over this spike more quickly.”
This Covid-19 restriction had been set to be scrapped on 21 March.
In her first parliamentary statement on the pandemic for a number of weeks, the First Minister did however confirm the cabinet’s decisions on continuing the transition away from legal requirements, to advice and guidance instead.
“Therefore, I can confirm that from Friday, and in line with other UK nations, all remaining Covid-related travel restrictions will be lifted.
“Then, from next Monday – with one temporary, precautionary exception – the remaining domestic legal measures will be lifted and replaced with appropriate guidance.”
So the requirement on businesses and service providers to retain customer contact details will end; and so will the requirement for businesses, places of worship and service providers to regard to Scottish Government guidance on Covid.
The face covering rule will be reviewed again in two weeks – before Easter recess – with the expectation that this regulation will convert to guidance in early April.
As for testing, for the next month until Easter, there will be no change to official advice.
That is, if you don’t have symptoms, you should continue for now to use a lateral flow test twice weekly, daily for seven days if you are a close contact of a positive case, and before visiting someone who is vulnerable.
If you have symptoms, you should continue to get a PCR test, either at a testing site or by post. However, from 18 April the government will no longer advise people without symptoms to test twice weekly.
Physical test sites will begin to close at the end of April – although mobile testing units and lab capacity will be retained for longer term testing purposes.
“From 1 May, instead of a population wide approach, we will use testing on a targeted basis – to support clinical care and treatment and protect higher risk settings, and for surveillance, outbreak management and responding to significant developments, such as a new variant,” said Sturgeon.
“Let me stress that for any purpose for which we continue to advise testing, access to tests will, in Scotland, remain free of charge.”
Office for National Statistics survey data suggests that in the week to 6 March, 1 in 18 people in Scotland had Covid.
Three weeks ago, an average of 6,900 new cases a day were being reported – the average now is just over 12,000 a day.
There has also been a rise in the number of people who are in hospital with Covid. Three weeks ago, that stood at 1,060 – today it is 1,996.
The increase in cases over the past three weeks has been driven by the BA.2 sub lineage of the Omicron variant, which is estimated to be significantly more transmissible – with a growth rate since mid-February perhaps 80% greater than original Omicron.
“Encouragingly, there is no evidence that BA.2 causes more severe illness than BA.1, or that it is more effective at evading natural or vaccine immunity,” noted Sturgeon. “Indeed, immune protection means that the recent rise in cases and hospital admissions has not translated into a commensurate increase in cases of severe illness requiring intensive care.”
This means that even though weight of numbers of infections is putting significant pressure on hospital capacity, the government continues to observe strong evidence that the link between infection and serious health harm has weakened considerably.
Sturgeon added: “Using the approach set out in our revised strategic framework, and based on clinical advice, our assessment is that the virus continues to present a medium threat – however we remain optimistic that it will move from medium to low over spring.”
Public Health Scotland had server problems over the past 24 hours, so no daily figures were published yesterday – and figures are no longer published at weekends.
The case number being reported today therefore – 38,770 – is the cumulative total for the past four days.
For context, the total for the equivalent 4 day period last week was 36,051. These figures reflect the recent increase in cases.
Don’t miss the latest headlines with our twice-daily newsletter – sign up here for free.