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Hugs return in Scotland as Sturgeon confirms further lockdown easing

·4-min read

People in Scotland will be able to hug loved ones again from Monday – subject to restrictions – an emotional Nicola Sturgeon has said as she confirmed further lockdown easing.

All of mainland Scotland, with the “highly probable exception” of Moray, will move from Level 3 to Level 2 of coronavirus restrictions on May 17, the First Minister told a Scottish Government coronavirus briefing. Many island areas will move to Level 1.

Moray is expected to remain in Level 3 following a surge in cases and an increase in hospital admissions.

In the rest of the mainland, six people from three households will be able to meet indoors, the same number can meet in a hospitality venue and eight people from eight houses can meet outdoors.

Alcohol can be served indoors in pubs, cafes and restaurants and cinemas, bingo halls and amusement arcades can reopen.

Many of Scotland’s islands will move to Level 1 due to vaccination coverage and low case numbers. The Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland are included as are all islands in the Highland Council area except Skye. It also applies to islands in the Argyll and Bute council area.

The First Minister said social distancing during meetings indoors or in private gardens will be dropped.

“I actually feel a wee bit emotional saying this, from Monday, as long as you stay within permitted limits, you can hug your loved ones again,” she said.

But she stressed it remains “vital to be cautious”, saying dropping social distancing will be reviewed for all situations in the coming weeks. Caution should be used where a vulnerable person is involved, she added.

Ms Sturgeon also confirmed Scotland will move to a traffic light system for international travel, similar to that already announced for England.

“We consider that the situation now allows us to believe a careful move away from blanket restrictions on non-essential travel overseas,” she said.

From Monday, managed isolation will still be needed for countries on the “red list” while a 10-day period of self-isolation with two PCR tests will be needed for amber list countries and those arriving from green list countries will be required to take a test when they arrive, but will not need to self-isolate if they do not have the virus.

HEALTH Coronavirus Scotland
Easing the lockdown in Scotland. See story HEALTH Coronavirus Scotland. Infographic PA Graphics. An editable version of this graphic is available if required. Please contact graphics@pamediagroup.com.

While green list status should be the “exception not the rule”, 12 countries and territories will be on the list from the start, including Iceland, the Faroe Islands, New Zealand and Australia.

“This decision means that, as of now, we have a consistent four nations position on international travel – I think that’s positive,” she said.

“It has been made possible because the decisions the UK Government has arrived at are appropriately cautious – I hope this continues to be the case but I need to stress that the Scottish Government will continue to take the decision we consider to be right for Scotland.

“We will not sign up to decisions that will put our progress at risk.”

She said Scots should “think seriously” about whether to take overseas holidays, adding: “When it comes to holidays abroad, my advice continues to be to err on the side of caution and to staycation this summer.”

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Addressing the outbreak in Moray, Ms Sturgeon said case numbers there are more than four times higher than in the rest of the country.

She said: “It’s against that backdrop that, unless the situation was to materially improve over the next few days, it would simply not be safe or sensible to ease restrictions there from Monday.”

As well as Moray remaining in Level 3, the First Minister said the region is likely to have travel restrictions reimposed to ensure cases do not rise in other areas of the country.

“This will mean that travel in and out of Moray will be limited to permitted purposes only,” she added.

“The situation in Moray, together with the emergence of new variants globally, should be a sharp reminder to all of us that the virus remains a real threat.”

However, the overall situation in Scotland is “positive” she said, as the “huge success” of the vaccination programme along with compliance with restrictions has meant Scotland’s coronavirus figures have continued to fall in the past three weeks, with case numbers dropping from an average of 226 per day to 177 per day.

Recently, a very slight increase across the country has been logged, mainly due to the outbreak in Moray, Ms Sturgeon said.

She added a “significant IT issue affecting Public Health Scotland” meant she was not able to report daily coronavirus figures but said she hoped this will be resolved soon.