We have made much progress tackling the COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland since the previous Strategic Framework Update was published in February 2021. The success of the vaccination programme has allowed us to reduce the direct harm of the virus and has also enabled us to re-open large parts of the economy and society, although many businesses and activities remain under restrictions. The recent increase in cases caused by the Delta variant shows that we cannot assume that the pandemic is over. These two factors mean that we need to adjust our Strategic Framework in response to changing circumstances.
Importantly, while cases caused by the Delta variant have been rising throughout May and June, the number of hospitalisations, patients in ICU and deaths have so far remained much lower than earlier in the pandemic. This improved picture can be attributed to the success of the protective measures in force alongside the roll-out of the vaccination programme.
Until now, our strategic intent has been about suppressing the virus to the lowest possible level while we seek to minimise the broader harms of the virus. Now that the direct health harms caused by the virus are reducing, the broader harms of the crisis grow relatively more important in our decision-making. Consequently, reflecting the success of the vaccination programme, we believe we are now at a stage of the pandemic where we can adjust our strategic intent from:
'to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there, while we strive to return to a more normal life for as many people as possible'.
to one where we work:
'to suppress the virus to a level consistent with alleviating its harms while we recover and rebuild for a better future'.
Our Strategic Framework, updated within this document, provides the context and principles for our response to COVID-19. It also provides a foundation for individual sectors of our economy and society to work with the Scottish Government on the policies and plans needed to chart our recovery from the pandemic. We set out later our progress and next steps against each of the six elements of our approach to managing the epidemic: our vaccination programme; the Test and Protect system of testing, contact tracing and self-isolation; protective measures (rules and guidance); measures to manage the risk of importation of the virus; supporting individuals, businesses and organisations with adherence; and providing care and support to mitigate the harms of the crisis.
The system of protective levels has served us well in managing the pandemic and in balancing the harms that it has caused. Looking ahead, we must be careful to only lift our remaining restrictions when the conditions are right to do so. And we must continue to exercise caution even beyond that point. Even with widespread vaccination, COVID-19 is likely to continue to pose a threat in the future.
Deciding when to move beyond Level 0 and lift domestic legal restrictions will be informed by conditions based on clinical advice. These conditions will ensure that the virus remains sufficiently under control in Scotland and that enough people are protected by two doses of the vaccine to ensure that we remain consistent with our revised strategic intent. At present, our current analysis of the state of the epidemic indicates that the lifting of Level 0 restrictions should not happen until at least all adults over 40 years of age have been protected by two doses of the vaccine. We expect this to happen by 9 August – a date which allows for the immune protection of the vaccine to take effect.
Reaching the stage of lifting remaining legal restrictions will not signal the end of the epidemic. COVID-19 is a disease that we will have to manage for the foreseeable future. To maintain the progress we have made in returning to more normality, it will be important for individuals, businesses and other organisations to continue to stick to a set of baseline measures to stop the virus resurging and to protect those who do not have protection from vaccination. Although some limited legal restrictions may still be necessary, the emphasis will be more on personal responsibility, good practice and informed judgement. This will mean everyone playing their part by taking measures such as: ensuring good ventilation; maintaining good hand hygiene; practising respiratory hygiene; wearing face-coverings when appropriate; and continuing to engage with our Test and Protect system and self-isolating when they are symptomatic or have tested positive.
We will work with business to support a phased return to more office working from Level 0 onwards. However, we intend to encourage continued support for working from home where possible and appropriate – not just to assist with continued control of the virus, but also in the interests of wider wellbeing.
We will continue to monitor the pattern of new cases throughout Scotland and to support enhanced local public health measures to manage outbreaks. As we have done at earlier points in the pandemic, we will apply specific restrictions or higher levels of general protective measures to control any further outbreaks.
There are likely to be targeted restrictions on overseas travel beyond Level 0. However, we will keep restrictions in place only for as long as necessary and proportionate to respond to the threat of importation of the virus.
Businesses, transport, education and other organisations have had to make significant sacrifices in order to adhere to physical distancing measures. Following a review of physical distancing requirements, we will cautiously ease these restrictions to enable the economy and society to operate in a less restricted way, as set out below. The table shows the key indicative dates for moving to and beyond Level 0. We may bring forward or move back these dates if the data indicates that to be necessary, consistent with our revised strategic intent.
Table: Indicative timetable for easing restrictions
Date: 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
Date: 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