The legal requirement for physical distancing in Scotland will be removed from next week, Nicola Sturgeon has said, as she confirmed the country would move beyond level 0 of the Scottish government’s five-tier system of Covid controls from 9 August.
Blanket self-isolation for school pupils will also be scrapped: when Scottish schools return over the next two weeks, school pupils will no longer be required to isolate for 10 days when someone in their bubble tests positive for Covid, as long as they test negative themselves. But face coverings for secondary school children will remain mandatory in classrooms and around school buildings.
In a statement to MSPs, who had been recalled from summer recess for the virtual session on Tuesday afternoon, Scotland’s first minister set out plans for the lifting of most legal coronavirus restrictions, meaning an end to limits on the size of gatherings and the removal of the requirement for 1-metre social distancing.
With the whole of Scotland currently in level 0, the country will from next Monday finally exit the five-level framework of Covid controls it has been operating under since last November.
But Sturgeon and the health secretary, Humza Yousaf, emphasised that talk of “freedom day” was premature and “it is important to be clear that it does not signal the end of the pandemic or a return to life exactly as we knew it before Covid struck”.
Sturgeon warned the harm the virus could do, in particular through the impact of long Covid, should not be underestimated, while the ability of the virus to mutate “may yet pose us real challenges”.
But setting out what she described as “sensible and cautious” mitigations, Sturgeon said face coverings would remain mandatory in all indoor settings such as retail, hospitality and public transport, “for some time to come”, and that it would remain a requirement for indoor hospitality and similar venues to collect the contact details of customers.
Scottish government advice to continue to work from home where possible will remain in place for now, and Sturgeon said her government would “continue to use travel restrictions, as and when necessary, to restrict the spread of outbreaks and protect against the risk of importation of new variants”.
In a “careful return” to large-scale events, organisers of outdoor events of more than 5,000 and indoor events of more than 2,000 will have to apply for permission, to allow local authorities to ensure appropriate arrangements are in place to reduce risk.
The automatic requirement to self-isolate for an adult identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for Covid will be removed, provided they are fully vaccinated and can provide a negative PCR test.
Sturgeon told MSPs the move beyond level 0 reflected the fact the country was “in a different stage of this pandemic”, removing the need to rely on blanket regulations.
“Vaccination has weakened the link between case numbers and serious health harms, and that means it is no longer appropriate or necessary – and therefore not necessarily even lawful – for us to rely as heavily as we did previously on blanket rules and regulations,” she said.