Nicola Sturgeon has again jumped the gun on Westminster by revealing Scotland’s provisional ‘exit strategy’ from the coronavirus lockdown.
The First Minister released a 27-page plan for how the loosening might happen north of the border, days before the PM is expected to unveil his ‘road map’ on Sunday.
She said her preference was for the UK to coordinate action but stressed her ‘overarching responsibility’ was to do what was right for Scotland.
The politician flatly ruled out easing the draconian curbs this week, saying the outbreak might be ‘slightly’ stronger than in England.
The First Minister (pictured today) released a 27-page plan for how the loosening might happen north of the border, days before the PM is expected to unveil his ‘road map’ on Sunday
Weekly ratios for new cases and new deaths in Scotland are ratios of weekly sums, plotted on a log 10 scale (pictured above) on graphs provided by Health Protection Scotland
The document sets out a five areas that may be first to ease when the time is right, including changes to the stay at home message, changes to advice about visiting other households, resuming care and support for those most affected by the restrictions, changes affecting businesses, and options for schools reopening.
It also outlines a four-part ‘routemap’ of measures which the Scottish Parliament hopes will speed up the time it takes to lift restrictions.
These fall under the following categories: test, trace, isolate and support, planning for moving safely to the new normal, potential for geographical variation, and next steps.
What restrictions could be eased first?
Changes to advice about staying at home
One of the hardest changes Britons have had to deal with has been to simply stay at home.
As the summer creeps up and the weather turns warmer, people have been desperate to escape the entrapment of the house.
And in Scotland this will be one of the first Covid restrictions to be lifted when the time is right, with the 27-page document looking to increase the opportunity for outdoor activity.
The article echoes scientists’ advice that being outside poses less risk of transmission of the deadly virus than congregating indoors.
Police give advice on lockdown to people enjoying the sunshine in Edinburgh this month
It says: ‘We are considering if and how we could make changes to allow people to leave their home more often and/or for longer.’
For those who work outdoors there may also be a glimmer of hope as the Scottish Parliament is looking to see if there is evidence to allow the restrictions currently in place on them to be lifted.
The news will come as a big boost for many Scotsmen but the move does have a number of caveats.
People would have to remain in their local area and continue to only socialise with people they live with.
Social distancing rules will still be in force regarding other households, with the further advice being to ‘maintain good hygiene at all times’.
Changes to advice about visiting other households
Another hard ask for people over the past month and a half has been to stop seeing their friends and family who do not live with them.
But discussions are being had over whether the much-touted ‘bubble’ method could be brought in when restrictions are relaxed.
This idea will allow small groups of people to convene – the number has not been decided – from different households, but not interact with any other groups.
The plan says: ‘It is possible that this option would be introduced first for outdoor meetings, ahead of any change to permit indoor meetings of the bubble.’
One of the things the Scottish Parliament is watching closely is the R rate of transmission between people before it will let them interact again. Pictured: Time taken for increases in R to overwhelm NHS capacity for different numbers of infectious people (assumes capacity of Covid Beds of 4,250 in Scotland
So despite it being a boost for people wanting to relax in the park with their friends in the sun, it means the prospect of chilling in a pub is still a way away.
Another problem with this idea, as the document mentions, is if one member of the group catches Covid, they will have to self-isolate for a week, while the rest of the group have to be locked away for a fortnight.
Those who are at highest risk from the virus – namely the elderly and people with underlying health conditions – will not be party to the relaxing of this restriciton.
The Scottish Parliament admits: ‘We recognise that this will become increasingly challenging as advice changes for other people.
‘We are committed to an honest conversation with our citizens who are shielding and with their families about the support they need, the evidence about the risks they face, and maintaining a quality of life while shielding.’
Resuming care and support for the vulnerable
As hospitals started to transform normal wards into Covid-worthy intensive care units, there was a terrifying thought that there would not be scope to protect those with other illnesses.
Huge swathes of NHS and community support services ground to a halt as medics focused all their attention on the raging pandemic.
Yet in Scotland top brass are looking at how and when they can bring these resources back to life, ‘provided this can be done safely and without unacceptable risk’.
As hospitals started to transform normal wards into Covid-worthy intensive care units, there was a terrifying thought that there would not be scope to protect those with other illnesses (pictured, day-of-the-week ratios for hospital occupancy and ICU occupancy)
The centre of attention is on restarting NHS Scotland elective procedures and screening services, which will come as a relief to many whose operations had to be cancelled after coronavirus struck.
There will also be the phased re-introduction of a wider range of social care support such as therapeutic group activities, when the time is right to ease the lockdown.
The document says it is looking at how these can be brought back in a fair and ethical manner, adding that certain groups will be the main focus.
The article notes those living with cancer, or the elderly and disabled people and their carers – who have seen services diminish or stop during the outbreak – will be a target.
Getting businesses back up and running
Businesses of all sizes have been battered by the coronavirus lockdown, with a staggering 27million workers estimated to have been furloughed by companies.
The future for these people should remain positive as they are expected to rejoin their firms when the country grinds back into gear.
But for many, the outlook is much bleaker as swathes of workplaces have been forced to close due to the restrictions in place, with employees being laid off in their thousands.
The document says before any decision is taken on changing the lockdown for businesses, how people operate in their workplaces will first be considered to weigh up the impact on public health.
But in a nod to employers, the document notes: ‘We will engage and work with business and trades unions to support the reopening of certain workplaces as soon as possible, but only when it is safe to do so.
‘This will be on the basis of a solid framework of guidance that supports safe working and is consistent with our Fair Work approach.’
Workers that may be first to be back in business include those in construction, manufacturing and retail because for these industries a work from home system has been much harder.
With more people heading into work, a secondary issue for bosses and politicians is the transport system and how to ensure social distancing remains.
The 27-page plan says that this will be looked at, but does not go into any further detail.
In a blow for some, the document adds that it is clear restrictions will still be heaped on some business activity ‘for some time’, and the work from home model is likely to remain part of the ‘new normal’.
Options for allowing pupils to return to school
Having the children running around the house every day has been a blessing for many parents during the lockdown, but for some it has been a nightmare.
For mothers and fathers in Scotland who fall into the latter category, their prayers are yet to be answered.
The document released by Ms Sturgeon notes that when it is safe to do so there will be a phased return to school for students.
It does not give a date, but speaking today she said she should was not sure June would be ‘safe’ – instead hinting after the Scottish summer holidays in August is more likely.
But it will be less than ideal for many children as they will not be reopened fully for ‘the foreseeable future’, meaning friends from different year groups may be kept apart.
The document released by Ms Sturgeon notes that when it is safe to do so there will be a phased return to school for students
And in a further blow the article says that Parliament is ‘not yet certain that they can re-open at all in the near future’, putting the education of thousands of youngsters in peril.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has been chairing the newly-established Education Recovery Group to work alongside the government, local authorities, teacher unions and parent representatives.
They are looking at how a phased approach to re-opening schools will look, as well as answering what and how it will work.
But the document specifically says it is not looking at when this will occur, due to this being decided by ministers based on scientific evidence.
There are two main options the Scottish Parliament is considering to get pupils back in the classroom.
The first sees them create a chronological list of priority groups who would return to school in an agreed order. This is a nod to vulnerable pupils and those who are in transition between schools.
The second is coming up with a new way for schools to operate to keep social distancing flowing among youngsters who tend to interact closely.
To help this, many children will have a mix of a classroom education every few days or weeks, topped up by lessons at home supported by online material.
Test, trace, isolate and support
Testing has been one of the main arguments surrounding the epidemic in the UK, with the government claiming last week well over 100,000 people were being tested for the bug each day.
But a storm brewed as it emerged politicians had been counting tests when they were sent out as well as the ones that were completed.
The Scottish government pledges in the document to ramp up testing capacity in the future.
Testing will team up with contact tracing and continued isolation of people with Covid to stamp out the virus north of the border.
Testing will team up with contact tracing and continued isolation of people with Covid to stamp out the virus north of the border. Pictured: A graphic from the document showing Scotland’s approach
Tracing is widely regarded in the UK as the way out of the current predicament, allowing people to see when they have been near someone with coronavirus symptoms so they can self-isolate.
The NHS track-and-trace app is being tested on the Isle of Wight from Tuesday morning onwards.
But the article from Scotland notes testing and tracing do not suppress the virus itself.
It says: ‘Test, trace, isolate and support can only work with the support and co-operation of people across Scotland, who may be asked to give samples for tests, share information about their recent contacts so that those at risk of infection can be traced and tested, and to isolate for long enough, potentially several times, to ensure that they have not contracted the virus.’
On the sharing of information there has been a huge row in England concerning people’s privacy and the fact the government are looking to compile the data in a centralised system – as opposed to decentralised ones put forward by Apple and Google.
The document adds: ‘Test, trace, isolate and support will be coupled with community surveillance to enable effective suppression of outbreaks.’
Planning for moving safely to the ‘new normal’
The Scottish Parliament document admits that the changes mentioned above will take careful planning before they can be implemented.
It says that businesses, public services and the third sector need time before they can re-open.
This is so workplaces can be adapted to suit social distancing, supply chains can be re-established after weeks at a halt, and finances can be sorted so changes are safely brought in.
There will be a system designed so the government can watch how the changes to restrictions are going.
Unsurprisingly the document confesses if the changes mean the virus transmission rate increases, then the full lockdown can be reenforced.
Potential for geographical variation
One idea suggested for Britain would be to stage the lifting of lockdown restrictions across different parts of the country.
This would depend on the transmission rate, what with areas such as London and the Midlands being hit harder by the virus than others.
In Scotland they are keeping an open mind to this if the scientific evidence supports it as the best move for the country.
One idea suggested for Britain would be to stage the lifting of lockdown restrictions across different parts of the country. It is also being looked at in Scotland. Pictured: The Prime Minister today
The UK now has more confirmed COVID-19 deaths – according to backdated statistics from the Office for National Statistics, National Records Scotland, and Northern Ireland’s NISRA – than any other country in Europe
The article says: ‘For example, future evidence may indicate that there are certain geographies where a differential approach, or different timings in the same broad approach, would be appropriate.
‘Assessment of the right way forward would factor in broader considerations, including the scope for any geographical (or sectoral) variation to impact on the clarity of communication and broader operational considerations, for example in relation to localised testing measures and travel restrictions in the event of a geographically varied approach.’
It adds policymakers would listen to the views of people, businesses and organisations affected by any changes.
The next stage of the crisis for the Scots will see them outline the options for change, as shown above, in more detail.
It notes that these will be looked at in consideration of the risk of infection, how they could be communicated best, changes to the law to suit the lifting of some restrictions and how each can be brought in effectively.
The document ends by saying further information on these plans will be made available ahead of the next review date on may 28.