Scotland moved into Phase 3 of the Route Map after the 9th July review point because it was safe to do so. The evidence showed that the conditions for moving into Phase 3 and beginning further changes to lockdown restrictions had been met. This achievement reflected the collective effort of people and organisations across Scotland complying with lockdown rules and restrictions, and the unstinting efforts of our NHS and partner organisations in tackling the epidemic. On this sound basis, with the virus suppressed, several significant changes to restrictions were made, including the re-opening of indoor hospitality, wider retail and the tourism sector.
At the following three-week review, on 30th July, the evidence again showed that it was safe to proceed with some further re-opening of our economy and society. We adopted a cautious approach, placing our focus on safely pausing shielding and then fully re-opening our schools. Other changes were held back until later in the phase and given indicative dates that would be subject to confirmation, depending on continuing progress in suppressing the virus.
There have been a number of important developments in the epidemic since the 30th July review point. Several of the key indicators in Scotland including confirmed COVID-related deaths, hospital admissions and use of intensive care units (ICU) have remained very low. However, confirmed positive case numbers have risen to an average of around 40-50 per day, having averaged around 10-20 a day for most of July, driven largely but not only by the outbreak that we have seen in and around Aberdeen.
The outbreak in Aberdeen has reminded us all how easily the virus can spread. We need to do everything we can to stop it in its tracks. That's why we have taken such decisive action in Aberdeen and we are grateful to the people of Aberdeen for their continued understanding and compliance with the rules which, alongside the exemplary Test & Protect work and outbreak management of the NHS and our partners, has now seen infection numbers fall. More generally, we should not be surprised by such outbreaks but we should seek to prevent them through following the relevant rules and advice, including following FACTS at all times. Where outbreaks do occur, we will seek to contain them, including through Test & Protect and through effective joint-working with partners on local outbreak management.
Our most recent estimates for the reproduction number (R) suggest that it could currently be close to or even above one. If the actual R number moves above one this could mean that the virus is spreading again. However, we know that the R number becomes less useful as a national indicator of the status of the epidemic when the prevalence of the virus becomes very low at the national level – as it is in Scotland at present. In such circumstances, the R number will be heavily influenced by local or regional outbreaks. However, the potential for R to be close to or above one reminds us how easy it would be for the virus to start spreading rapidly again in Scotland if we do not collectively take the appropriate measures to curb transmission.
Looking at developments elsewhere in the UK and internationally, the period since the 30th July review has seen significant increases in the number of infections in many countries. These increases are shown for a range of European countries in Figure 1. Such increases have not yet been mirrored by commensurate increases in hospital admissions and deaths, as the virus now seems to be spreading more quickly among young people. However, when prevalence among young people rises significantly then there is a risk of the virus spreading from young people to other, more vulnerable sections on the population. Beyond Europe, we continue to see the virus spreading rapidly in many parts of the world.
This deteriorating situation beyond our borders matters because we face the clear risk of importing the virus into our country and seeding new outbreaks. This helps to explain why we have taken, along with our four nations partners, difficult but necessary decisions about removing certain countries from our exemption list, meaning that people arriving from those countries must quarantine for 14 days. While we recognise the inconvenience this causes, this is an important public health measure to keep our communities safe. As with the requirement to self-isolate and other rules like those on social gatherings, when people break these rules, they may not feel the direct effects themselves, but they may ultimately cause others, including loved ones, acquaintances and strangers, to fall gravely ill and even to die. We can only effectively control the virus if each and every one of us follows the rules.
In our current assessment of the status of the pandemic, we judge that we do not yet meet the criteria for progressing to Phase 4 of our Route Map, in which the virus will cease to be a significant threat to public health in Scotland. Beyond the planned changes to the restrictions set out in this publication, the Scottish Government considers that the remaining coronavirus regulations remain necessary to protect public health.
Given the developing status of the epidemic – both in Scotland and internationally – the Scottish Government has decided to continue to take a cautious approach at this review point. This includes strengthening some of the measures that are designed to keep us all safe.
As we have taken decisions about what sectors and activities to re-open on our route out of lockdown, we have been guided by the principles set out in our Framework for Decision Making. In particular we have sought to reduce broader health, economic and societal harm, whilst remaining focussed on the necessity of suppressing the virus. This has led to some difficult timing decisions about how best to balance the various harms. We understand how difficult this situation is for those sectors and activities that are still waiting for the date when they can resume. Such decisions are necessarily more complex than simply comparing the viral transmission risk of one sector or setting with another, as broader economic and social impacts and interdependencies are also taken into account.
To help those businesses affected by the crisis, we have made over £2.3 billion of support available and have plans in place to support broader sustainable economic recovery, following advice from both the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery and the Enterprise & Skills Strategic Board. In addition, we believe it imperative that the UK Government continue to provide furlough and broader support for sectors affected by the ongoing crisis and do not withdraw support too soon.
The changes in this review period set out today will be introduced on 24th August and 31st August, with a further set of proposed changes given an indicative date of 14th September, subject to confirmation at the next review point of 10th September. (Where a locality or region is subject to localised restrictions, not all of these changes will apply.)
On 24th August we will see the resumption of driving lessons, as well as the resumption of some small outdoor live events. Face-to-face advice services such as those provided by Citizens Advice are also able to reopen on this date. We are also able to confirm this date for the reopening of activities such as bingo halls, amusement arcades, casinos, indoor bowling and snooker halls – all with appropriate guidance in place. Funfairs will also be able to resume. These will represent welcome changes for many people, but such positive changes can only be maintained if we all adhere to the relevant guidance.
At the last review we also said that we would consider whether it would be feasible to bring forward some changes including re-opening gyms and swimming pools given their clear importance for our health and well-being. We now plan to bring forward the date for the resumption of these settings from 14th September to 31st August. We also said that we would consider re-opening indoor sports facilities for use by children for all activities. These can now open from the same date and may also be used by adults and young people for non-contact sports, following guidance.
Finally, we are able to offer the indicative restart date of 14th September for a range of settings and activities, including indoor entertainment venues such as theatres (with restricted capacity), the limited reopening of stadia (with restricted numbers), a wider range of outdoor events such as concerts with standing audiences and the resumption of indoor contact sports for adults and young people – all subject to appropriate guidance. It must be stressed that this indicative date is conditional on continued progress in suppressing the virus. If the epidemic in Scotland deteriorates before this date then the expectation must be that the date will be delayed.
Many of our international partners are finding that they are reaching the limit of relaxing restrictions without risking a resurgence of the epidemic; several are now tightening restrictions. In Scotland we will face similar challenges over the weeks and months ahead. We have been consistently clear that we are seeking to create the conditions for a sustained recovery in our economy and broader society through continued suppression of the virus. As we have carefully and gradually re-opened sectors and activities, this has inevitably increased opportunities for the virus to spread. We too may reach our limit in Scotland, and that limit may come much sooner if our compliance falters.
As the international pandemic situation changes and as compliance and other factors adjust over time, we must consider whether we need to adjust certain measures or restrictions in order to better suppress the virus, while alleviating its broader harms. We need to protect the ability of our schools to provide a full-time education for our children. We need to maintain a safe environment in which businesses can operate, jobs can be protected and livelihoods can be maintained. This cannot happen unless we collectively comply with the rules and measures that remain in place to keep ourselves and others safe.
In recent weeks we have seen how the virus can exploit weaknesses in our compliance and how quickly it can then take hold. It is clear that a common factor in many outbreaks of the virus is indoor hospitality and social gatherings indoors. We have had to re-impose local restrictions in Aberdeen, and may need to do the same in other places across Scotland in response to future outbreaks. To help us to avoid the need for this, we intend to introduce some additional, enforceable regulations that will address some of the most significant transmission risks that have been a factor in recent outbreaks.
To help our hospitality sector to remain open while doing everything we can to prevent future outbreaks we have already made it mandatory for a range of settings, including hospitality businesses, to collect customer details and introduced statutory guidance for the hospitality sector to improve safety.
Looking forward, we plan to regulate to give the police powers to break up and disperse house parties held in breach of the regulations and to empower local authorities to take action to deal with poor compliance in some licensed premises, particularly pubs and bars. In doing so, we are seeking to maintain the conditions for further, sustainable recovery for our people, schools and businesses.
All of the changes that we have announced to date on our route out of lockdown require strong compliance with ongoing rules and advice – including specific sectoral guidance and general adherence to the FACTS. Over recent weeks we have seen what can happen if we do not continue to remain vigilant to the public health advice in place. If we all continue collectively to comply with the rules, then our prospects for continuing to suppress the virus, alleviating the broader harms of the crisis, and returning closer to normality remain positive.
20 August 2020
Avoid crowded places.
Clean hands regularly.
Two metre distance.
Self isolate and book a test if you have symptoms