COVID restrictions in Scotland: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Information requested

Copies of the evidence that has been used, and records of decisions, that has insisted on maintaining COVID restrictions on people in Scotland which clearly are not working as England has no restrictions and has a lower rate of infection.


I have included the information you requested in Annex A and Annex B. Some information held within these documents have been redacted under Section 30(b)(i)(free and frank provision of advice). Further information on this exemption can be found in Annex C.

  • Annex A – Proposed approach to removing baseline measures
  • Annex B – COVID-19: Review and Response - Briefing to Ministers

In addition, the Scottish Government has published a range of information relevant to your request.

Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you. In this instance, the information is FOI responses that have issued to you previously. If you require further copies of these then please contact me again and I can resend the information.

The Scottish Government considers a wide range of evidence when making assessments to inform decisions on restrictions. In April 2020, the Scottish Government published Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making, which set out the challenges Scotland faced and outlined the approach and principles that guided us as we made decisions about transitioning out of the then lockdown arrangements.

In December 2020, the Scottish Government published Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making - assessing the four harms, which set out the four harms process for assessment used to establish when coronavirus restrictions could be safely lifted after lockdown and the scientific evidence underpinning the decisions.

The Scottish Government has published detailed analysis on the current evidence for the direct and indirect health impacts, and social and economic impacts, of COVID-19 and the restrictions put in place, which you can find here.

Scotland’s Strategic Framework, initially published in October 2020, set out our then strategic approach to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level and keep it there, while we strived to return to a more normal life for as many people as possible. You can find the latest update to Scotland’s Strategic Framework here: Scotland's Strategic Framework update - February 2022.

Information on Scotland’s strategic approach to managing coronavirus, including the information which has been provided above, can be found here: Coronavirus (COVID-19): strategic approach.

On 11 March 2022, The Scottish Government also published the report Coronavirus (COVID-19): state of the epidemic, which brings together the different sources of evidence and data about the COVID epidemic to summarise the current situation, why we are at that place, and what is likely to happen next. This report would have been considered when Ministers were reviewing the proposed approach to removing baseline measures, as well as the data in the document which I have provided in Annex A.

The evidence and data in both these sources would have been used to formulate a decision on the removal of restrictions which was announced by the First Minister in Parliament on 15 March 2022. You can read the full statement here: First Minister’s statement – 15 March 2022.

As your request doesn’t necessarily specify what restrictions you are referring to, I have also included information below regarding Scotland’s face covering policies, which you may find helpful.

The Scottish Government has always and continues to make decisions based on the available scientific and medical evidence. Face coverings policy was informed by a wide range of sources including the World Health Organization (WHO) and Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), as well as clinical advice and evidence from Public Health Scotland (PHS) and the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) advisory group.

Noted below are links to the appropriate information sources which supported the continued use of face coverings in Scotland:

  • On 21 April 2020, the SAGE meeting number 27 considered the DELVE group paper on face masks for the general public. The paper highlighted that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals are infectious and that droplets from infected individuals are a major mode of transmission. Therefore, they concluded that face masks can be a tool for managing community transmission of COVID-19 within the general population.
  • On 28 April 2020, SAGE Environmental and Modelling Group (EMG) published the paper 'Environmental influence on transmission of COVID-19'. This paper looked at transmission through airborne, droplet and contact routes and considered the evidence relating to different mitigating measures. They advised that face coverings could be another mitigation in place, especially when 2-metre distancing cannot be maintained.
  • On 4 June 2020, SAGE discussed mitigating measures which included the use of face coverings. You can find further information in the meeting minutes which are available on the UK Government website here.
  • On 5 June 2020, and updated in December 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) released updated advice on the use of face coverings. The guidance advised that, to prevent COVID-19 transmission effectively in areas of community transmission, governments should encourage the general public to wear face coverings in specific situations and settings as part of comprehensive approach to suppress COVID-19 transmission. You can find a copy of this guidance on the WHO website here.
  • On 22 July 2020, SAGE published a paper on aerosol transmission, which highlighted that “[Cloth] face coverings will reduce the dispersion of respiratory droplets and small aerosols that carry the virus into the air from an infected person”. The paper also highlights the importance of face coverings to reduce asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission. The paper can be found on the SAGE website here.
  • On 24 July 2020, UK Parliament released a summary of the relevant SAGE reports on face coverings. This can be found on the UK Parliament website here.
  • On 15 September 2020, SAGE NERVTAG-EMG provided updated advice on the use of face coverings. You can find further information in the meeting minutes which are available on the UK Government website here.
  • On 1 October 2020, SAGE concluded that to mitigate against aerosol transmission, enhanced use of face coverings should be considered alongside ventilation for reducing far-field aerosol transmission risks. You can find further information in the meeting minutes which are available on the UK Government website here.
  • On 1 December 2020 WHO published updated advice on the use of face coverings in the community. You can access the most up to date guidance from WHO here.
  • On 22 December 2020, SAGE meeting number 74 discussed a paper on mitigations to reduce transmissibility. The publication reinforced the importance of strengthening all mitigation measures. For face coverings, they highlighted that this mitigation is important to reduce the emission rate of small aerosols, which provides a degree of protection for individuals around the wearer.
  • SAGE paper from 13 January 2021, discussed in SAGE 76, focuses on the effectiveness of fabric face coverings (which includes face coverings of 1 to 3 layers) to mitigate COVID-19. The publication reinforced that the use of face coverings can be effective in reducing transmission in public and community settings. The paper also stressed that, when worn correctly, face coverings are likely to be most effective at reducing transmission in both indoor and outdoor settings when people are likely to be close together. The paper can be found here.
  • On 8 April 2021, SAGE highlighted that studies support the continued use of face coverings for staff working in hospitality, retail and leisure sectors, especially those working at restaurants, bars and pubs are at higher risk. You can find further information in the meeting minutes which are available on the UK Government website here.
  • On 30 April 2021, evidence published in a SAGE SPI-B paper highlighted that minority and socio-economically deprived groups face several barriers in applying risk-mitigating practices in their workplaces, communities, transport, and domestic spaces therefore, guidance only in all settings rather than mandating is not recommended. They also stated that as settings reopen, prevention measures will be important, e.g., limiting building occupancy, improving ventilation, prioritising outdoor seating, use of face coverings, physical distancing, adherence to quarantine, and encouraging vaccination. You can find further information in the meeting minutes which are available on the UK Government website here.
  • On 14 June 2021, WHO published interim guidance on the approach that countries with advanced vaccination programmes should adopt to tackle COVID-19. WHO recommends the continued use of face coverings in areas of known community or cluster transmission. The guidance can be found here.
  • On 5 July 2021 EMG, SPI-M and SPI-B published “considerations in implementing long-term ‘baseline’ NPIs.” The key messages are that ongoing baseline measures, such as face coverings, are required to decrease the risk of transmission from an infected person. The paper also highlights the importance of quality and fit of face coverings. You can find further information in the meeting minutes which are available on the UK Government website here.
  • On 7 December 2021, SAGE advised that in light of emerging evidence relating to Omicron, ventilation, well-fitting masks and distancing or reduced density of people in indoor environments may be even more important. You can find further information in the meeting minutes which are available on the UK Government website here.
  • On 2 December 2021, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control advised that non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) that have proven to be very effective in reducing transmission of infection should continue to be implemented by countries based on an assessment of their epidemiological situation regarding the Delta VOC, and taking into account the uncertainty of the situation regarding the Omicron VOC. Physical distancing measures, ensuring adequate ventilation in closed spaces, the maintenance of hand and respiratory hygiene measures, the appropriate use of face masks, and staying home when ill all remain relevant. More information can be found here.
  • In December 2021, the WHO published a guide to mask use in community settings. The WHO advise that in settings where there is community or cluster transmission of SARS-CoV-2, irrespective of vaccination status or history of prior infection, wearing a well-fitting mask* that covers the nose and mouth is recommended for the general public when interacting with individuals who are not members of their household. More information can be found here.

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at

FOI - 202200290545 - Annex A-C
FOI - 202200290545 - Briefing to Minister


Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

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