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Nicola Sturgeon to reveal if coronavirus restrictions will be relaxed further

The Independent logo The Independent 18/01/2022 Dan Barker

Nicola Sturgeon will later reveal if coronavirus restrictions in Scotland are set to be relaxed further as she faces demands to lift almost all restrictions by the end of the month.

On Monday 60,000 football fans swarmed into Celtic Park to see the Hoops beat Hibs in the first match to be held with a large crowd in weeks, as Scotland continued to loosen restrictions introduced as the mutant Omicron variant swept the country, but pressure is mounting on the First Minister to go further in her statement to MSPs later on Tuesday.

A decision is expected to be made on current restrictions on hospitality and leisure venues later, but Douglas Ross leader of the Scottish Conservatives, called on the First Minister to scrap restrictions apart from mask rules.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is set to update MSPs on Tuesday afternoon (Fraser Bremner/PA) (PA Wire) © Provided by The Independent Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is set to update MSPs on Tuesday afternoon (Fraser Bremner/PA) (PA Wire)

“The Scottish Government’s own data shows that we are past the peak of Omicron.

“The latest evidence means we can now be far more optimistic,” said the party leader.

People across Scotland have learned to live with Covid.

“The success of Scotland and the UK’s vaccine scheme means the public can now tackle Covid through their own actions, without the need for so many government restrictions.”

Ms Sturgeon has remained tight-lipped on what she will announce to Holyrood, but said Scotland was “in a better position than I feared we would be before Christmas”.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has called for most restrictions to be dropped (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Wire) © Provided by The Independent Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has called for most restrictions to be dropped (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Wire)

“Looking at that data right now, we’ve got reasons to continue to be cautiously optimistic that we’re turning the corner on this Omicron wave,” she said.

“That’s because people have responded magnificently, they’ve behaved in a way that’s helped stem to some extent the transmission of Omicron and we took sensible, balanced, proportionate steps.”


Video: Sturgeon ‘cautiously optimistic’ amid calls to end Covid restrictions (Daily Record)

As well as an end to current restrictions on businesses that put a cap of 100 on indoor standing events and 200 on seated events, enforce table service for alcohol-selling businesses and mandate social distancing between groups, the Tories are looking for the First Minister to announce the scrapping of the vaccine passport scheme along with guidance on household mixing and social distancing.

The number of new cases is falling, according to latest data from the Scottish Government (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Archive) © Provided by The Independent The number of new cases is falling, according to latest data from the Scottish Government (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Archive)

The Tory plea, which would see changes come into effect from January 31, also called for mask-wearing in schools to be dropped and work-from-home guidance to be dropped, while self-isolation would be “gradually phased out” over a period of months.

Leon Thompson, UK Hospitality Scotland’s executive director, said that “a lot hinges on what the First Minister says”, and that businesses needed to know her government “is supporting them as they attempt to begin recovery from the financial impact of two years of closure and restrictions”.

“Those restrictions, coupled with the health messaging over Christmas and Hogmanay, were incredibly damaging for businesses already carrying unsustainable levels of debt, sorely depleted cash reserves and in need of a strong festive trading period,” he said.

“Hospitality needs to know that it can begin trading fully, including nightclubs, so we’re calling on the Scottish Government to lift restrictions no later than January 24,” added the executive director.

“This will send a positive message that Scotland is open for business and help our businesses as they set out again on what we all hope will be the road towards recovery.”

As part of the relaxation of rules allowing large outdoor events, organisers those with crowds of 1,000 or more are now required to check the Covid passports of at least half of the attendees, and the classification of fully vaccinated changed from two to three jags.

But, like the Tories, the Scottish Liberal Democrats called for this to end.

Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton urged the First Minister to get rid of “out-of-date rules” and put in place “a more logical and consistent set of guidance”.

“At the moment you can go to the pub and to a football match but indoor sports are still banned.

“We know that these activities have huge physical and mental benefits so it’s time to bring that suspension to an end,” he said.

Scottish Labour have urged the First Minister to address issues in the NHS and provide support for small businesses.

“We have health boards going beyond ‘code black’ and reducing GP as well as hospital services; a staffing crisis with overworked employees at breaking point, and a social care system that is still reeling from the impact of SNP decisions at the start of the pandemic,” she said.

“This statement is the SNP’s opportunity to listen to and address the concerns of frontline NHS staff and patients.”

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