Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making

Sets out challenges Scotland faces and outlines the approach and principles that will guide us as we make decisions about transitioning out of the current lockdown arrangements.

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Section 5: Options for Easing or Imposing Restrictions

  • Any easing of restrictions will be conducted in a phased and careful manner.
  • We will do what is right for the people of Scotland.
  • We will adapt as we learn more about this virus.

It is essential that we understand that living with the virus will mean continued uncertainty and changes to how we live our lives. A key consideration around easing restrictions is how to do so safely. Even as we lift some of the more restrictive measures, we are likely to require continued adherence to the advice on staying at home if symptomatic and to the advice on physical distancing.

We are likely to require that gathering in groups, for example in pubs or at public events, is banned or restricted for some time to come. And good hand hygiene and cough hygiene must become fundamental habits. We cannot afford to have exceptions. Each one of us will have to adapt to this as the new normal, at least until we are sure that we can be more protected by a vaccine or treatment.

If, after easing any restrictions, the evidence tells us we are unable to contain the transmission of the virus then we will have to re-impose them, possibly returning to lockdown with little notice. While we will do our best to avoid this, it is possible that such a cycle may happen more than once until we reach a point when we have in place an effective vaccine.

Around the world, nations are considering different options for easing or re-imposing restrictions. It is too early to tell from international comparisons what the safest and most effective approach might be. Most countries are just at the starting point of lifting interventions and there will be a time lag between lifting and seeing the impact. We can learn from others' experience.

Taking careful account of all the harms caused by the virus, the Scottish Government will participate in the UK four nations expert advisory groups and collective decision-making process. On occasion, expert advice may point to different approaches reflecting the specific circumstances in each country or to different optimal timings for easing or tightening restrictions across the varying geography of the UK. On such occasions, the Scottish Government would consider the appropriate course of action to best meet Scotland's specific needs and circumstances.

There may also be some actions that require co-ordination and co-operation with the UK government which the Scottish Government considers necessary, for example border control and health surveillance of people coming into the UK. In these circumstances, we will seek support for such measures through the four nations framework.

Our assessment is that now is not the right time to relax restrictions. Over the next few weeks, based on the evidence and expert advice, a number of options will be considered – not all of which may be selected. These are likely to include the easing of restrictions in a phased manner, opening up different parts of the economy sector by sector, considering different restrictions in different areas dependent on how the pandemic is progressing, and considering options for different groups of the population – as is currently the case with those shielded for clinical reasons. It may be that restrictions on some outdoor activity are eased before those on indoor activities - however, all of this will be evidence led.

Easing restrictions will not mean returning to how things were before the virus. Physical distancing, hand hygiene, and other critical behaviours will be essential in each sector. We will engage with experts in each sector to understand the practical consequences, for example, of what physical distancing would mean for schools and education, transport, business, and recreation. The capacity of business and industry to innovate to find different ways to function will be critical here.

In addition to the effect of different options for easing restrictions on the transmission of the virus, we will consider the practicality of measures, their sustainability, their proportionality, the ease of reintroducing measures in the event that exponential transmission was to reoccur, and the clarity of the message for the public.

Some form of continued shielding to protect those who are most at risk will almost certainly be required as restrictions are lifted. This means that we will have to redouble our efforts as a government and society to support those people who have to remain shielded.

There is still much to learn about this new disease. Our options for lifting restrictions will be informed by global learning on how the virus progresses. Under the existing legislation, the enforceable measures will be reviewed at least once every three weeks. This ensures that restrictions do not go further than is actually required and do not remain in place longer than is strictly necessary.

Options for varying the restrictions include full and partial lifting of existing measures. Looking forward, they also include the potential introduction of new restrictions and (partial) re-imposition of measures to keep the virus suppressed, guided by the evidence and broader considerations we have set out.

In terms of partial adjustments to measures, there are a number of approaches that can be taken and we will consider them in accordance with the principles set out in this document. These include variations by geography, by sector, or by specific groups of the population (such as is already the case with our shielding measures).

Easing restrictions in particular settings is likely to see the continuation of physical distancing and other hygiene measures (such as maintaining 2 metre distancing when premises re-open and/or limiting the number of people that can be in confined spaces at the same time).



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