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Sturgeon to unveil first steps in easing lockdown

Nicola Sturgeon: ‘we can’t live like this forever’

Nicola Sturgeon is expected to announce an easing of the lockdown restrictions this week, allowing people to take part in some outdoor activities and visit garden centres.

Golf, tennis and fishing, where social distancing is more easily achievable, will be among the first steps back to the ‘new normal’, and it is expected that recycling and waste facilities will reopen.

But Scotland is unlikely to follow England by allowing pupils to return to school next month, or before the summer holiday.

Ms Sturgeon has promised to review the current lockdown measures on 28 May which is when any changes are most likely to be introduced.

The First Minister is under pressure to allow more workers to return to work, particularly in the housing industry, though this also looks to be off the agenda.

A number of house builders have reopened sites in England following agreements with the medical authorities and Westminster government. Some of those same companies are signatories to a letter sent last week to Ms Sturgeon asking for guidance on a phased return to work and the opportunity to complete unfinished homes. Trade body Homes for Scotland said it is awaiting a reply.

dobbies

Dobbies stores are open in England

The go-ahead for garden centres to reopen is more likely as public frustration grows at continued closure of retail outlets not seen as being any more of a risk than supermarkets which are allowed to open. Dobbies Garden Centres’ HQ in Edinburgh remains closed while its stores across England are open. Klondyke Garden Centres based near Falkirk is also shut while its premises south of the border are open.

On Friday, James Barnes, the chairman of the Horticultural Trades Association, and a former boss of Dobbies, said “Consumers in Scotland will be confused why garden centres cannot open in their local area.”

The First Minister said at her briefing earlier that day: “I know how important it is to get the economy up and running again.

“We can’t live like this forever, so we need to get some normality back as we continue to suppress the virus.

“Even when we can’t yet give firm dates on when things will open up again, at least we will seek to share with you the order of priority and further phasing.

We can’t live like this forever, so we need to get some normality back as we continue to suppress the virus

Nicola Sturgeon

“Next week I will share with you more information on the assessments we are making and the range of options we are now looking at, and also any further minor changes we might make in the short-term.”

Some loosening of lockdown restrictions is now under way in England, with people allowed to go outside for longer periods, while employees in some sectors who cannot work from home have been encouraged to return to work.

The Scottish government has allowed for citizens to leave their homes for exercise more than once per day, but Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have not adopted the new “Stay Alert” slogan and continue to urge people to stay home.

Help for bars and restaurants

Scottish Liberal Democrats have proposed an amendment to the latest coronavirus emergency legislation to allow cafes, restaurants and bars to put more tables outside their premises in closed roads to enable social distancing between customers.

Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Embracing a new street cafe culture with more covers outside could for many make the difference between their business being viable or not. 

“Temporarily allowing these businesses to use nearby streets and other open-air spaces would help them lift the shutters when the time is right, protecting jobs and keeping people safe.

The toll of deaths linked to Covid-19 in Scotland is in decline, but Ms Sturgeon said that further measures to ease the lockdown will not be implemented until “more evidence of a downward trend” in the spread of the virus is obvious.

Ms Sturgeon has regularly warned that the infection rate – the so-called R number – continues to be higher north of the border than it is in England.

Rural areas of Scotland appear to have been less affected than larger cities, and the First Minister said that Holyrood would not rule out the prospect of easing lockdown rules on a regional basis.

The total number of confirmed and suspected Covid-19 deaths in Scotland is over 3,200, with more than half of these are occurring in care homes.

Following criticism that his campaign message was confusing the public, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said today that the government was attempting something that has “never had to be done before”.

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Writing in the Mail on Sunday, he says: “I understand people will feel frustrated with some of the new rules.

“I want to reassure you that there is a route out of this.”

Confusion has surrounded a number of statements on travel, outdoor exercise and schools.

The government was forced to backtrack on its statement that a proposed 14-day quarantine measures would not apply to those travelling between Britain and France.

Downing Street later said there was no French exemption, and that the original statement referred to the need for cooperation to manage the common border between the two countries.

Those exempted from the policy could include freight drivers, in order to allow the flow of goods to continue, and people working on Covid-19 research, but not ordinary travellers.

The government has already indicated that people arriving from the Republic of Ireland will not be made to go into quarantine. However, the measures will apply to UK holidaymakers returning from other destinations.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham today accused Mr Johnson of failing to inform mayors about the lockdown in England being eased.

Writing in The Observer, he warned that without additional support for the regions, there was a danger of a “second spike” of the disease.

Mr Burnham said that despite having taken part in a call two weeks ago with Mr Johnson and eight other regional mayors, he was given no real notice of the measures announced last Sunday.

Liverpool council has said it will not start re-opening schools next month.

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