The First Minister has urged Scotland to exercise “care and caution” as it continues into phase two but faces accusations that she has failed to understand the depth of the “economic and education crisis” facing the country.
Nicola Sturgeon addressed Holyrood today as she announced Scotland was moving into phase two of a four-phase plan to ease lockdown restrictions, including a move to allow those in the shielded category to meet with one household outdoors and for those who live alone to choose an “extended household group”, allowing them to meet indoors without physical distancing and overnight.
However, in some of the angriest parliamentary scenes since the coronavirus pandemic began, the First Minister was accused of a lack of “ambition” by leader of the Scottish Conservatives Jackson Carlaw.
The announcement that a decision on beer gardens and terraces reopening would be pushed back by another two weeks was met with disappointment and anger by some venues across the north-east who had gone to considerable lengths to prepare for reopening.
Mr Carlaw also said her statement made no progress in addressing the crisis facing Scotland’s school pupils who go back to school on a “blended learning model” from August 11, spending around half their time in school and the other learning from home.
Employees in factories, warehouses, labs and research facilities across the country can return to work from June 29, leaving thousands to figure out childcare arrangements.
He said: “There’s a difference between adopting a cautious approach and ignoring businesses, parents, experts and teachers across the country.
“Parents will have tuned in hoping to hear some resolution on schooling. Instead, they’ve been fobbed off with contingency plans – none of which are going to help them return to work if they have children who don’t have a school to go to.
“If the SNP government does not get this right, hundreds of thousands of people across Scotland are going to suffer badly.”
In a heated exchange, the First Minister hit back at Mr Carlaw, accusing him of “baying for the head” of former chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood but having “lost his tongue over Dominic Cummings”.
She added: “I will never take my eye off my fundamental responsibility, which is to keep this country safe and to avoid lives being lost.
“Jackson Carlaw said he would have welcomed the lifting of these restrictions I’ve announced two weeks ago, that would have been utterly reckless and would have put lives at risk.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie accused the Scottish Government of failing to deliver a “joined up approach” to lockdown, stating the First Minister had announced a return to work for thousands of parents without “adequately explaining” who will look after their children.
He said: “There is no school yet. Childminders are limited and can be costly and grandparents and friends are still off limits.
“Yet employers will be expecting them back to work and they will no longer be able to afford to stay off work.”
However, Ms Sturgeon said the country is still facing an “unprecedented challenge”, adding that the Scottish Government is still recommending employers encourage home working and continuing to increase access to “critical childcare beyond what has been available so far”.
I will never take my eye off my fundamental responsibility, which is to keep this country safe and to avoid lives being lost.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
The First Minister also used her statement to parliament to announce there had been two Covid-19-related deaths recorded in Scotland in the past 24 hours, taking the total death toll under the Scottish Government’s measurement to 2,464.
There were 11 new positive cases, taking the total to 18,077, while 929 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, a decrease of 36 from yesterday.
It comes after figures released by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) on Wednesday showed deaths have fallen for the seventh week in a row and are at one ninth of the peak level.
However, Ms Sturgeon said the country “must still exercise care and caution”, adding there remains a “very real risk that transmission could rise again”.
She added: “But if – as I believe is the case – frustration, leading to a premature easing of too many restrictions, is our biggest risk right now, it is equally true that patience could reap our biggest rewards.”
Among the restrictions being eased include being able to meet up with two households outside, rather than just one, with physical distancing and a maximum of eight to a group remaining in place.
From tomorrow those who are not shielding can also use toilets indoors while visiting the outdoors of another household.
Face coverings will also become mandatory on public transport from Monday, with the First Minister revealing that ScotRail has a “small supply” to give to passengers but this will be for a “limited” period of time only, to allow passengers to get their own.
Children under five, people with breathing difficulties and those who have physical conditions that make it hard to keep the coverings in place will be exempt.
There is also a review under way looking at whether the wearing of face coverings should also become mandatory in shops with a report back due before non-essential retail opens on June 29.
However, small firms say they have been left disappointed after the timetable for reopening was pushed back to June 29 and pubs, restaurants and gyms remain closed until a review on July 2, after emerging evidence that they can be “hotspots for transmission”.
Under the rules for phase two, shops that sell products other than food will be able to reopen from June 29.
Colin Borland, FSB’s director of devolved nations, said independent retailers up and down the country will welcome the news they have a date for reopening.
He added: “We’d urge people to back these local bookshops, corner shops and boutiques because they need your spending power like never before.
“However, some shopkeepers will be disappointed that this reopening is more than a week away, when many were primed for Monday.”
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