Nicola Sturgeon has accelerated the relaxation of restrictions on travel and outdoor meetings as she said Covid was “in retreat” in Scotland.
Announcing the changes, which will allow Scots to meet up with family and friends across the country outside in larger groups, the first minister said that from this Friday:
People will be all able to travel anywhere within Scotland for the purposes of outdoor socialising and exercise, having previously been confined to their local council area.
Up to six adults from up to six households can now meet outdoors.
Island communities will align with rest of country in terms of restrictions so that travel to and from the islands can operate more normally.
Sturgeon said “significant progress” had been made in reducing the number of new cases, with the average number of daily infections falling by 85% since early January and 40% in the last two weeks alone.
She told the briefing: “Covid is in retreat in Scotland but it hasn’t gone away,” urging people to continue to stick to rules, especially around indoor meetings and working from home.
Sturgeon confirmed that, from 26 April, there will be a more significant easing of the lockdown restrictions that have been in place since after Christmas, with shops fully reopening while pubs, cafes and restaurants can open fully outdoors. There will also be limited hospitality opening indoors at this point, which she pointed out would be three weeks ahead of England.
As of 26 April, travel restrictions to and from England and Wales will also be lifted – although Sturgeon added that it may be necessary in future to reintroduce temporary travel restrictions.
However, she said international travel remained a “significant risk”, and that greater restriction on it would be “the price we pay for much greater normality here in Scotland”.
Sturgeon also said people should be able to meet indoors again from the middle of May, albeit in limited numbers, and that she hoped to see a return to even greater normality, including hugging loved ones, by the summer.
The changes came as Sturgeon confirmed that Scotland had “effectively met” its initial vaccination target of offering a first dose to all over-50s, unpaid carers and adults with particular underlying health conditions.
Asked if she had the forthcoming Holyrood elections in mind as she made the announcements, she said: “It’s not a consideration at all.
“If I was acting on an election timetable i’d probably be opening up lot more quickly than i am just now. Anyone who thinks that hasn’t been paying attention to what we’ve been doing carefully and cautiously over the past number of months.”