Scotland progressed to Phase 3 of the Route Map following the 9th July review. It was safe to progress because we met the necessary conditions that had been set, including on suppressing the virus.
Phase 3 began (10 July) with daily new confirmed cases averaging in single digits, daily confirmed deaths averaging below one (and closer to zero) and with an estimated 700 infectious people in Scotland. This provided a solid platform for further, careful easing of restrictions, consistent with our approach to mitigating the overall harm from the crisis – to our health, economy and society more broadly.
The changes to the restrictions made from the 10th to 22nd July were significant. They included, among others changes, a relaxation of the rules around social gatherings, the opening up of places of worship for communal prayer and congregational services, the full re-opening of our retail and hospitality sectors – all with ongoing public health measures such as physical distancing and enhanced hygiene measures. These changes were made to deliver much needed social and economic benefits. However, the consequence of opening up is increased opportunity for the virus to spread. This underlines the importance of continuing to comply with the rules and restrictions that do remain in place – rules that become even more important as we lift other restrictions and when we might be tempted to let down our guard.
From the publication of the original Route Map in May, we have been clear that, as we mitigate broader harms by gradually opening up, the increased opportunities for transmission in Phase 3 mean that we must have a continued focus on containing sporadic outbreaks. We should not therefore be surprised by such outbreaks but we should seek to prevent them – through following the relevant rules and advice (including FACTS) - and to contain them where they do occur, including through Test & Protect and working with partners on local outbreak management.
Since the significant changes made earlier this month, the data on confirmed COVID-related hospital admissions and deaths have remained very low. There has been a slight increase in the number of daily confirmed cases, though the percentage of positive tests has remained very low (below 1%). We have also seen an outbreak at a call-centre facility in North Lanarkshire – followed by effective Test & Protect and local incident management to contain the outbreak. This underscores the importance of complying with the rules and guidance in place, in workplaces and other settings, to help keep ourselves and others safe.
Another important development since the 9th July review has been the increase in the number of cases and outbreaks, and the potential resurgence of the virus, in various countries in Europe and beyond. This matters because, having successfully suppressed the virus within Scotland, our key risk now is that we import the virus. This explains why we have had to make difficult decisions about which countries require a quarantine arrangement. In that task we are guided by the data on the status of the pandemic in different countries. These data are routinely updated, meaning that our assessments of the risks are routinely updated too. We understand the uncertainty and inconvenience that this causes travellers and have urged residents in Scotland both to consider a 'staycation' this year where that is possible and to be cautious about non-essential travel abroad until the international situation improves. Following the quarantine rules is imperative, particularly as those entering or returning to Scotland from higher risk countries could be spreading the virus unknowingly – for example if they have no or only very mild symptoms. And for everyone else in Scotland, following the FACTS and other public health measures will help us to mitigate the risk of the virus being imported and then entering community transmission.
Given the increased risk both of importing the virus and of transmission following our easing of restrictions earlier this month, we are now focussed on ensuring continued suppression of the virus ahead of the full and safe re-opening of schools, which we can now confirm will take place from 11 August. In the interim, only limited changes with confirmed dates will come into effect .
The re-opening of schools will be a hugely important step towards reducing the broader harms stemming from the crisis. 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, but always with the necessity to suppress the virus. This has led to some difficult timing decisions about how best to balance the various harms. 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.
The re-opening of schools will represent a further significant change and will bring with it further increases in social and economic interactions – including increased use of public transport. It is important that we allow the impact of the re-opening of schools to be assessed before we proceed with further significant changes to restrictions. For this reason, we are only planning at this point to give indicative dates to further Phase 3 changes, which we envisage happening at two main stages: Monday, 24th August and Monday, 14th September. These indicative dates will need to be confirmed at the respective review dates: 20th August and 10th September. If progress on keeping the epidemic suppressed is not as positive as we expect, for example as a result of increased importation of the virus, then these dates are liable to be pushed further into the future. The planned dates are set out in the table later in this publication.
We have not yet set a date for the re-opening of non-essential offices and call centres and we do not anticipate that these should open until some time after the 10 September review date (i.e. not before 11 September). Even for those workplaces that are able to open, we will continue to emphasise that working from home, where feasible, should be the default position.
We understand how difficult this situation is for those sectors and activities that are still waiting for the date when they can resume. However, it is important not to undermine the sacrifices and progress that we have all made so far by making the remaining changes too early. This could lead to a further increase in cases which then requires the reintroduction of restrictions more generally – including shutting down sectors that have already re-opened. Unfortunately, we have now seen this start-stop pattern emerge in numerous countries around the world. Nevertheless, we understand the importance of continuing to support those sectors still facing restrictions, both from the Scottish Government and, importantly, the UK Government, which holds a number of relevant powers, including over borrowing.
Following a gradual easing of the shielding guidance throughout June and July, we can now confirm that shielding will be paused after 31st July and the changes in this publication will apply to those of us who have been shielding. If you have been shielding this means that from August 1st you will be able to return to work and children will be able to return to school when they open. We are still asking you to be especially careful about hand hygiene and physical distancing and we have developed a range of information and tools to help you to make informed decisions about how to stay safe https://www.gov.scot/publications/covid-shielding/. We will continue to monitor our advice, and if things take a significant turn for the worse – whether nationally or in your local area – we will take the necessary steps to keep you as safe as possible. In particular we will contact you directly and we will give you clear advice on what to do if we are asking you to do anything different.
In our 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, where the virus will cease to be a significant threat to public health in Scotland. It is likely that we will remain within Phase 3 for some time to come. Beyond the changes to the restrictions indicated in this document, we judge that the remaining Coronavirus regulations remain necessary to address the ongoing threat to public health from the virus.
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 more general adherence to the FACTS. If we continue collectively to comply, then our prospects for continuing to suppress the virus and returning closer to normality remain positive. And, looking further ahead, the prospects for effective treatments and vaccines are improving. But if our compliance falters now then the risk of a resurgence of the virus in Scotland – as we have seen elsewhere – increases, and with it the prospect that we will need to delay the further easing of restrictions and potentially re-introduce localised or more general restrictions. It is the sum of our individual actions, our collective endeavour, that is suppressing the virus and helping to keep ourselves and others safe.
30 July 2020
Avoid crowded places.
Clean hands regularly.
Two metre distance.
Self isolate and book a test if you have symptoms.