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Coronavirus in Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon to unveil lockdown easing ‘route map’

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Scotland’s first minister is to unveil details of a four-phase „route map“ towards easing the country’s lockdown restrictions.

Nicola Sturgeon said earlier this week that she hoped the first phase of the process would begin on 28 May.

Progress will be assessed every three weeks, with further phases introduced if it is thought to be safe to do so.

But the first minister stressed it will be a „very gradual process“ to ensure the virus continues to be suppressed.

She said on Monday that the initial phase would see people from different households being allowed to meet outdoors.

More outdoor activities could be allowed, such as golf, fishing and going to sit in the park, while garden centres and recycling facilities may open and some outdoor work could begin again.

Ms Sturgeon is also likely to give more information about when schools might reopen – although it is expected that most of the country’s pupils will not return to the classroom until the start of the new term in August.

Some of these easing measures were introduced in England last week, but Ms Sturgeon said at the time it would not be safe for Scotland to follow the same timetable.

This was largely because the so-called R number – essentially the rate at which the virus is spreading – has been higher in Scotland than in some other parts of the UK.

However the number of people who are dying with coronavirus in Scotland has been falling in recent weeks, as has the number of patients needing hospital treatment and intensive care.

This has given the first minister and her advisers more confidence that any relaxation of the lockdown that was introduced across the UK on 23 March will not lead to a resurgence in the virus.

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Most of Scotland’s school pupils are unlikely to return until the start of the new school year in August

She will outline her government’s plans in a statement to the Scottish Parliament at about 12:30 on Thursday.

Speaking ahead of the announcement, she said: „For the time being the advice on staying at home except for essential purposes remains the same.

„But we hope to shortly be ready to start easing the lockdown restrictions and today’s route map will outline how we can do that.

„At all stages in this process we have listened to the views of people and organisations in Scotland, and have been guided by the latest scientific advice – and that approach will continue going forward.“

The first minister added: „This will be a very gradual process as we monitor how changing behaviour affects the infection rate and we will only be able to move toward easing more restrictions if we continue to work together to suppress the virus.“

Ms Sturgeon has described the proposed changes that could be introduced on 28 May as „some concrete steps on the journey back to normality“.

But she has stressed that the virus will not have gone away by that point, so it „won’t be normality as we knew it, but it will be a journey to a better balance than the one we have today“.

Figures released on Wednesday showed that a total of 332 deaths involving coronavirus were registered in Scotland between 11 and 17 May.

This was 83 fewer than the previous week, and brought the total number of deaths to 3,546 since the country recorded its first confirmed case on 1 March.

Care homes have been accounting for more than half of all coronavirus deaths in recent weeks – although the number of residents dying has been decreasing.

The Scottish government has also said it will have 2,000 workers ready to be deployed on a coronavirus testing and tracing scheme by 1 June.

Some will be existing health service staff, while others will be returning NHS workers, with a third group being recruited through an advertising campaign.

A test of the technical systems involved in the strategy is being held in the Highland, Fife and Lanarkshire health board areas.

A similar scheme will run in England – although the plan for Scotland does not include the use of the app piloted by the NHS in England which has already been launched on the Isle of Wight.

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