Coronavirus: ‘Too early’ to start easing lockdown – Sturgeon

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Nicola Sturgeon said the lifting of lockdown would be phased, not a “flick of the switch”

It is “too early” to start lifting coronavirus lockdown restrictions “in any meaningful way”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The next review of strict social distancing rules is due on 7 May.

But the Scottish first minister said the margins for making any changes were still “very, very tight”.

Ministers are considering ways of gradually lifting the lockdown, but Ms Sturgeon warned that it “is not going to be a flick of the switch moment”.

She said the key objective was to “get the virus to as low a level as possible” and then keep it there with continued social distancing and a testing and isolation regime.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to set out the UK government’s thinking on options for easing restrictions in future, after Ms Sturgeon’s government published a paper on the same topic.

However, at her daily briefing the first minister said she had to deliver a “tough message” that changes will not happen quickly.

She said: “I have to be straight with you that it may very well be too early in any meaningful way to safely lift any of the current restrictions.

“We have worked very hard to bring down the transmission rate of the virus and we are definitely seeing results from those efforts.

“But our progress against the virus is too fragile for us to let up.”

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Ministers are concerned that the number of people using the roads has been rising

Ms Sturgeon said there was evidence that people were beginning to venture out more, warning that “if everyone starts easing off, the virus will quickly take off again”.

She said car travel – while still far lower than pre-lockdown levels – had increased by 5%, and by 10% in some towns and cities. Uses of concessionary bus travel was up by almost a sixth last week.

The first minister said she understood people wanted to travel more and spend more time outside, but said “all of it adds up”.

She said: “What I’m asking you to do is to think about whether or not it is the case that right now you are a little more active than you were at the start of lockdown, and why that is the case.”

She asked people think about whether their journeys were essential and added: “If we allow this virus to run out of control again, I’m going to be standing here for a lot longer giving you even more grim statistics.”

Scottish transport use since lockdown

% of pre-lockdown levels

Ms Sturgeon has pledged that next week she will update her government’s paper with more detailed options on how to begin easing restrictions.

She has said the country could return to something like the previous “containment” phase of dealing with the virus, which would involve a “test, trace, isolate” system of tracking down people who have come into contact with infectious patients and have them go into isolation.

She told ITV’s Peston programme: “It stands to reason you have to protect your NHS from being overwhelmed, which is why we’ve said all along protecting the NHS is an objective, but its not a sufficient objective in and of itself.

“The key objective in my view is to get the virus to as low a level as possible, and then through, unfortunately, a period of continued social distancing. And in the next phase test, trace, isolate to keep it as low as possible so we are minimising the harm it does to people and minimising the number of people who die from it.”

Ms Sturgeon said the whole focus should not be on protecting the capacity of the health services, as NHS Scotland currently only has 114 of its 600 intensive care beds filled.

She said: “If your only objective was not overwhelming the NHS I could say to you, well we could afford to have the numbers of people in intensive care quadrupling, and we still wouldn’t be overwhelming the NHS.”

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The Scottish and UK governments have both set targets to ramp up testing for the virus

Both the Scottish and UK governments have set targets for ramping up testing by the end of April.

Ms Sturgeon has said she is confident that the Scottish government will exceed capacity for 3,500 tests per day, but there have been reports that the full capacity is not always used.

She has warned that mass testing should not be seen as a “panacea”, and that the current tests are not always reliable unless patients are showing symptoms.

The UK government had set a target of 100,000 tests by the end of April, but again has more capacity than is being utilised.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said it was “probable” that the 100,000 target would not be met by Thursday’s deadline but that it would be in the “next few days”.

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