From First Minister
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As I said last week, we can't live this way forever. We all want to get back to some semblance of normality – whether that's seeing our friends and family, getting back to work or school, or just being able to spend our free time in the way we want to.
This document sets out the steps that will take us there. It doesn't have all the answers and it doesn't set exact timescales. That's because we are still learning about the virus. We will have to move carefully and gradually to ensure we keep it under control and develop the best ways of doing so.
Too many people have lost their lives to this disease already and we cannot risk another peak – most importantly because that would mean more deaths but also because it would mean another lockdown.
This week we have also seen what the hard work of lockdown has achieved, with a continuing fall in the number of deaths and in the number of people in intensive care.
But we know the lockdown is doing harm of its own. It is causing loneliness and social isolation, deepening inequalities and damaging the economy.
None of us want it to last any longer than it has to.
So we are setting out the phases by which we will aim to ease lockdown. They are gradual and incremental and will be matched with careful monitoring of the virus. We may, at times, need to hit the brakes on easing. However, it may also be that we are able to ease restrictions faster than we initially thought that we could.
The biggest single factor in all of this will be how well we continue to observe advice designed to control the virus. Continued hand washing, cough hygiene and physical distancing will be essential - so too will compliance with our test, trace, isolate and support system.
This will mean that our workplaces and our public transport will look different from normal – we have all got used to things being different and it is going to be that way for a while.
It will also mean that how we see our friends and family will be different – we will initially focus on catching up outside and with physical distancing.
Unfortunately, in some ways, easing lockdown will also be more complicated than the present situation – with the trade-off that we will be able to do more. Our messages will necessarily become more complicated as we begin to ease lockdown measures. But what we are asking you to do will allow more personal choice. Trusting each other will be vital, as will recognising that every decision we take as individuals will have an impact on our collective wellbeing.
For those who are currently shielded from the virus these balances will be particularly hard. We know that the isolation imposed by shielding over a long period of time can itself harm physical and mental health. So before the initial period of shielding ends we will set out what comes next. We will listen to your experiences and seek to provide advice that allows you to improve your quality of life while keeping your risks as low as possible.
Our test, trace, isolate and support system - or Test and Protect as we are calling it - is already being trialled and it will be a crucial tool in controlling the virus. It is an important part of our integrated strategy and is crucial for infection control, shielding and protecting shielders. It is critical for specific issues, for example, the return to schools. It is absolutely vital that we are all aware of the symptoms of the virus - a high temperature, or a persistent cough, or a loss of taste or smell - and that we know exactly what to do if we have them.
As we move through the different phases of easing it is incumbent on us to give you clear guidance on what that will mean for you. We will also give you notice as to when changes are happening so you have time to prepare.
As an example of that we will be publishing guidance in the coming days for key sectors of the economy. This will allow employers and employees to work together and prepare for starting work again. We will also publish guidance on travel and public transport.
The COVID-19 crisis is both complex and uncertain. We are sharing our plans with you based on our current understanding about the epidemic, about the broader consequences of the crisis for our health, our economy and society, and about how our responses are mitigating the impacts of the crisis. Both the epidemic and our understanding continue to develop and so we too will continue to develop our plans, to share them with you and to seek your views on how they might be improved. We may not get everything in this complex and uncertain crisis right first time, but we will continue to listen and to do everything we can to improve our responses.
I know when we see other countries where lockdown conditions are already easing that we are impatient to get there ourselves. But we have to move in line with our own circumstances.
The way we make progress more quickly is by being open about where we are controlling the virus and sticking closely to the rules that are in place at the time.
We all miss our friends and family, our kids miss their schools and their friends and it's a highly anxious time for business owners and workers – so we must continue to work together to suppress the virus further and restore a way of life that is as close to normal as possible.
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