‘Race between vaccine and virus’ as new Scottish lockdown announced
Scotland is being placed in lockdown until at least the end of January as the country battles to limit the spread of the new strain of coronavirus.
From midnight tonight, it will be illegal for people to leave their homes, except for “essential purposes” such as caring responsibilities, exercise, buying essential shopping and being part of an extended household.
Schools will remain closed until at least February 1, with pupils returning to home learning as they did between March and June last year.
Outdoor meetings will be limited to two people from up to two separate households, although children under 12 will still be able to play together outside.
Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland was currently in a “race between the vaccine and the virus”.
She warned the current situation is “extremely serious” and she is “more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year.”
She said: “It is essential that we further limit interaction between different households to stem the spread and bring the situation back under control, while we vaccinate more people.
“In short, we must return for a period to a situation much closer to the lockdown of last March.”
The First Minister said that anyone who can work from home must do so and businesses can only operate for essential purposes, highlighting that cosmetic clinics, ski centres and large showrooms must now also close in addition to those who have been unable to operate under level four restrictions.
Places of worship must also close, with the exception of funerals, weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, which will be able to take place with a limited amount of people attending.
The restrictions will be in place across mainland Scotland, while the islands which are currently under level three restrictions will remain there for the time being.
People who were previously shielding and cannot work from home should not go to work at all.
In the week from 23 to 30 December, the seven day incidence of cases per 100,000 of the population increased by 65 per cent, from 136 to 225.
Sturgeon said the NHS is currently coping but that the position in some areas is “fragile and getting more challenging.”
She said in terms of hospital beds, NHS Ayrshire and Arran is currently at 96 per cent of its COVID capacity, while three other health boards – Borders, Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Lanarkshire – are above 60 per cent of their capacity.
“As a government, our clear and overriding duty right now is to act quickly to save lives and protect the NHS,” she told the Scottish Parliament, which was specifically recalled for the COVID-19 statement.
On the issue of schools, Sturgeon said that the decision to keep them closed until at least February 1 had been “the most difficult of all” and said getting schools reopened remained a priority.
“Right now, two factors mean that it is not consistent with a safety-first approach for all children to attend school in person,” she said.
“First, the overall level of community transmission is simply too high. We need to get transmission down before schools can safely reopen. A period of online learning will also, in turn, help us do that.
“The second reason is that there is still significant uncertainty about the impact of the new variant on transmission amongst young people. We therefore have to adopt a cautious approach.”
Sturgeon also confirmed that to date, more than 100,000 people in Scotland have received the first dose of the vaccination and in total, it is expected that Scotland will have access to just over 900,000 doses of vaccine – including those already administered – by the end of January.
She added: “We do not yet have certainty on supply schedules beyond January but will keep Parliament updated as these become firmer.
“However, our current expectation, based on assumptions about supply and the new advice on doses being administered up to 12 weeks apart, rather than three is that by early May everyone over 50, and people under 50 with specific underlying conditions will have received at least the first dose of vaccine.”