Publication - Strategy/plan

Coronavirus (COVID-19): review of physical distancing in Scotland - June 2021

Sets out the outcome of a review of physical distancing in public places, taking account of the science, and the current and projected state of the epidemic in Scotland in light of our vaccine roll-out and the ‘four harms’ of the virus.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): review of physical distancing in Scotland - June 2021
Review conclusions and future approach

Review conclusions and future approach

In light of the considerations detailed in the previous chapter, we have carefully reviewed existing requirements to maintain physical distancing and the scope to ease these in a gradual and cautious way.

We have considered whether it would be possible to adopt different approaches across sectors and to align physical distancing rules with other nations such as England, to allow consistency in application of measures across borders. We have also considered the most appropriate way to ease measures - whether on a national, regional or more local basis.

From reviewing the evidence on the impact of physical distancing, it is clear that it has been an important tool during the pandemic for keeping the virus suppressed and reducing the direct health harms which COVID-19 causes. We therefore must ensure that any easing of existing measures is done in a safe way and that the approach we adopt is tailored to the circumstances, taking four harms considerations and the impact of continued measures on fundamental rights fully into account.

In light of our understanding of transmission risks - and how the vaccination programme in particular will mitigate these and result in a reduction in health harms as we move forward - we assess that the most proportionate approach is to link the easing of remaining physical distancing measures to our progress in protecting the people of Scotland through COVID-19 immunisation. This will result in clear, easy to understand measures which will apply Scotland-wide, which we expect will bring benefits in terms of adherence to those measures which require to remain in place. We also anticipate that the easing of current measures across the country as a whole will mean that we can be as confident as possible that distancing measures will not need to be re-imposed. This is important not just from the perspective of protecting public health – we recognise that changes to physical distancing can be difficult and costly to reverse, as they can require changes to the physical layout of settings.

Our proposed approach to future distancing requirements is set out below:

Date Levels Restriction Physical distancing
19 July Conditional on a review of the epidemic ahead of this date All areas move down to Level 0 Reduce outdoors to 0m Reduce indoors to 1m
9 August Conditional on over 40s being fully vaccinated and a review of the epidemic ahead of this date All areas move beyond Level 0 (Levels restrictions lifted) All physical distancing regulations lifted

We will continue to engage with stakeholders across sectors as restrictions are eased to assist with forward-planning, taking into account the particular risks and needs of each setting. And just as progress with our vaccination programme means we can consider physical distancing in a fresh light, vaccination will also change the environment for Test & Protect. We are closely monitoring the developing evidence on vaccination and transmission risk, and will continue to review whether existing self-isolation requirements remain necessary and appropriate. That will include work to consider whether and to what extent the requirement for children and young people to self-isolate as contacts of positive cases can safely be significantly reduced in future. This would have important benefits for educational continuity.

It is important to note that even at the point when restrictions are eased, the virus will still be with us and we will all require to play our part in managing it. This means that as we move away from prescriptive rules and guidance to decisions based on personal judgement, it will be important for us all to consider whether and how interactions with others can be made safer. For as long as the epidemic is with us the need for us to consider physical distancing will remain. And it remains possible that a resurgence in the virus may require us to reintroduce certain protective measures. This will be kept under review to ensure we can provide appropriate guidance to employers and premises.

Our summer marketing campaign will provide information on making safer choices in a range of different settings and it will also encourage employers and employees to continue to work together to minimise transmission risks. Up-to-date, accessible public health information will also be available on to allow people to make informed judgements about participating in different activities, attending different settings.

We have all been on a long and difficult journey together over the course of the pandemic and the measures needed to keep the virus under control - including physical distancing - have taken their toll on all of us. Whilst we recognise the harms caused by measures to suppress the virus (and, as outlined in our Strategic Framework update[24], will continue to provide care and support to mitigate these) it is important to acknowledge that by sticking to them, we have kept ourselves and each other safe and ultimately, saved lives.

Our shared determination to work together and the heroic efforts of all those involved in our vaccination programme mean that we are continuing to make progress in tackling the pandemic and that a return to much more normality is on the horizon. We have ambitious plans to drive forward Scotland's recovery from the crisis, which are already well underway. Together, we will emerge from this difficult period more resilient and, perhaps, even more grateful for the ability to connect with one another.

Scottish Government
June 2021