Scots must “stay the course” with the coronavirus lockdown or risk reversing the “fragile” progress made so far, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The first minister said “real progress” had been made, with hospital admissions stable and the number of patients in intensive care falling.
However, she said even a slight lifting of restrictions could put this at risk.
She added: “Any easing right now would see the virus surge upwards again, so please stick with it.”
Ms Sturgeon warned businesses that they should only contemplate re-opening if they can comply with social distancing guidance.
A further 13 deaths have been registered of people who had tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total under that measure to 1,262.
A total of 1,762 people are in hospital being treated for the virus, with 134 of them in intensive care.
Ms Sturgeon said there were “real signs of progress” in the latter figures, with the number of people in intensive care units down a third over the last two weeks.
Covid-19 patients in hospital
“The NHS has not been overwhelmed, which just a few weeks ago we really feared it might be,” she said.
“We have evidence that the actions all of us are taking are making a real and positive difference. However, this progress remains very fragile.
“Now is a time for all of us to exercise careful caution. It’s certainly not a time to throw caution to the winds. The margins we think we are working within in respect to the reproduction rate are very narrow.”
The Scottish government has published a paper setting out options for a “phased” lifting of restrictions, with the aim of beginning a conversation about an “exit strategy” from lockdown.
However Ms Sturgeon warned that “at this stage even a slight easing in restrictions” could see the virus “start to spread very quickly again”.
“The job is not done yet, we need you to stay the course for a bit longer,” she added.
“I know all this is difficult, and it gets more difficult with every day that passes, but it remains essential. Any easing up right now would see the virus surge upwards again, so please stick with it so we can continue to make progress together.”
The NHS has not been overwhelmed – that was the message stressed again by the first minister today.
Although Covid-19 cases in hospital intensive care ticked up slightly in the figures released today, Nicola Sturgeon was keen to stress the longer-term trend continues to fall. ICU figures have fallen by around a third in the last fortnight.
Before the pandemic, Scotland had 190 ICU beds and often they would be under pressure. On 12 April, there were 221 Covid patients alone in ICU beds.
The NHS has coped by expanding capacity, and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said it now had surge capacity for around 580 people in intensive care.
However, that is in part because of the postponement of elective surgery. Recovery rooms and operating theatres have been repurposed to be able to treat the most critically ill.
But routine operations cannot be postponed forever. As the NHS begins to gear up again, they will need to reconfigure things once again.
Will they create Covid-free hubs to scale up some non-urgent procedures? And will we see a role for NHS Louisa Jordan? It is currently not being used. It may still be needed before this crisis is over.
The first minister said she was “acutely aware” of the economic damage being done by the lockdown, but said any “premature easing up of these restrictions” could make it “even worse”.
She said businesses “should not contemplate” re-opening unless they could comply fully with guidance on social distancing and health and safety.
Asking firms to “continue doing the right thing”, she told them that the “precautionary principle” still applies “for the protection of your workers and customers”.
The first minister also said it was “good to see Boris Johnson back at work”, and that the governments of the UK were “all absolutely united” in the overall goal of tackling the virus.
The prime minister also said he did not want to “throw away” the progress made so far by relaxing the lockdown too quickly.