Coronavirus deaths plummet but FM asks people to be 'hypervigilant' as restrictions ease
The number of deaths from COVID-19 has plummeted by 80% in the last two months, the First Minister has said.
Nicola Sturgeon also confirmed a reduction in hospitalisation and intensive care admissions because of the virus at the lunchtime briefing.
She confirmed her government will go ahead with plans to lift the 'Stay at Home' rule on Friday. It will be replaced with a 'Stay Local' message for three weeks.
Additionally, she said other "fairly cautious steps out of lockdown" - such as more students returning to on-campus learning and the resumption of contact sports for 12 to 17 years olds on Monday - will happen as planned.
Homeware stores and garden centres will also be able to reopen from then, while hairdressers can also return.
Avoiding complacency remained the key message of the First Minister's update, however, and she warned people should be "hypervigilant" as restrictions ease.
Sturgeon said: "We are now averaging 539 new cases per day. That is a decline of more than three-quarters since early January.
"The number of deaths from COVID has fallen even more sharply. They are down by more than 80% in the last 2 months.
"And, as you can see from the figures I have reported, the number of people in hospital and intensive care is also reducing.
"However there are still no grounds for complacency. Indeed, we must continue to be hypervigilant.
"For example, the data suggests that the numbers of new cases in Scotland – having fallen throughout January and February – are now plateauing, rather than continuing to decline significantly.
"Numbers fell very slightly last week – but they have risen in some other weeks recently. As a result, hundreds of people in Scotland every day, are still getting the virus which remains very infectious and highly dangerous.
"So we still face significant risks - and it is vital that we all continue to bear that in mind and act cautiously and carefully.
"However, there is no doubt that we have made progress - both in suppressing the virus and in vaccination - and that is directly relevant to the decisions I am confirming today."
A total of 411 new COVID cases have been reported, with 250 people currently in hospital with the virus - 23 of whom are receiving treatment in intensive care. A further 12 people have died.
An update on the vaccination programme showed almost all over 65 years olds have now received a first dose of the vaccine. So have 98% of 60 to 64 year olds, 81% of 55 to 59 year olds and 57% of 50 to 54 year olds.
The First Minister was asked about the possibility of so-called vaccine passports in the future - certification that proves an individual has had the coronavirus jag and would permit them to do certain activities.
She said: "In general terms, I agree that it should be looked at... I think we should consider how we use some kind of vaccine certification to open more in the future.
"I think we've got to be careful and considered about how we do that. There are still some questions that we don't fully know the answers to about the vaccine, its impact on transmission, although the early data on that is all very positive.
"And there are big ethical and equity questions about vaccine passports and certification. There are some people who can't get vaccinated for medical reasons for example, so we need to think through all of this.
"The Scottish Government is thinking about it and we are participating in the international and UK wide work on this as well. It's not something I think is practical right now but in the future it is possible."