The 180,000 Scots at most risk from dying from Covid-19 will have to continue shielding at home until the end of next month, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
Vulnerable people in the shielded category are likely to be prevented from meeting up with friends and family until July 31, with most of the tight restrictions governing their lives remaining in place until then.
The announcement was made despite Scotland recording the second day on the trot when there had been no new Covid-19 deaths.
Ms Sturgeon said she understood people would be disappointed by the extension to the shielding period. But she argued the decision had been taken to keep protecting them from the disease.
A small silver lining for the shielded
There was, however, a glimmer of respite for those who have been stuck inside shielding. From next Thursday, it is hoped they will be allowed outside for unlimited exercise unless they are living in a care or residential home.
But they will not be allowed to play golf or tennis, go to their workplace or meet up with other households.
Those restrictions will stay in place despite shielded people south of the border, who live alone, now being allowed to meet one other person from another household provided they social distance.
We didn’t do what the UK Government did last week because we didn’t think that had been thought through enough and we didn’t think the way that had been communicated was proper.”
Ms Sturgeon appeared to take issue with the new English guidance on shielding when asked why Scotland appeared to be behind other parts of the UK on the issue.
“We didn’t do what the UK Government did last week because we didn’t think that had been thought through enough and we didn’t think the way that had been communicated was proper,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“We are taking the proper steps to consider this carefully and we will continue to do that. And if we are asking people to restrict the way in which you live your life it is for your protection.”
At her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon declared that the coronavirus was “in retreat” as she revealed there had been no new deaths from the disease for a second day in a row.
The first minister said 2,415 patients who tested positive for Covid-19 have died – no change on the previous day’s total.
But she repeatedly warned that easing lockdown too quickly could undo the progress that had been made so far in suppressing the virus.
Scotland, she said, was at a “crucial juncture” and would either keep “beating it back” or let it “roar back with a vengeance”.
Despite the disappointing news for the shielded category, Ms Sturgeon said she was “optimistic” the country could move into the next phase of the roadmap out of lockdown when at its next three weekly review on Thursday 18 June.
There are no words that will ever adequately express the sorrow that I feel for all that you have gone through, or indeed the gratitude that I feel for the way that you have borne it.”
Ms Sturgeon described the July end date for shielding as the latest possible point when those with pre-existing conditions will be asked to self-isolate.
She said some easing may be possible a little earlier, if it is supported by scientific evidence.
She said: “We’re doing this because we think that these measures right now remain essential.
“For the shielded group, we know that even as community transmission reduces, you remain at a heightened risk.
“This is difficult for you, I understand that, but it is for your protection.
“Again, we will not keep you under these restrictions for longer than is necessary and between now and July 31, if we can ease them anymore we will do that if the evidence says that is possible and doesn’t put you at greater risk.”
Ms Sturgeon told those who have been shielding for the past three months that it “really does matter” that the guidance continues to be followed.
She said: “There are no words that will ever adequately express the sorrow that I feel for all that you have gone through, or indeed the gratitude that I feel for the way that you have borne it.”
The first minister added she is aware the suppression of the virus seen in recent statistics may have caused some to wonder if shielding remains necessary and the possible flouting of some rules by other members of the public may have caused those who are shielding to wonder: “Why should I bother?”
She said: “These painful but necessary sacrifices have brought us to where we are today – with this virus in retreat.”