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Return to normal 'not on the cards' in the near future, says First Minister

By Scott Maclennan

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Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has outlined possible ways the government could end the lockdown but warned that “a return to normal as we knew it is not on the cards in the near future.”

There was bad news for sports as large gatherings are likely to be prohibited for “some months to come” while schools would be unlikely to fully reopen without the capacity for social distancing in classrooms, and people in vulnerable categories will still need shielding.

She is the first of the UK leaders to set out what she believes could be a workable way to start easing social distancing measures that have helped stem the virus but which she acknowledged is doing real harm.

Ms Sturgeon stressed that the policy paper would be subject to change – and she invited public consultation – according to the circumstances but that she wanted to “open a grown-up conversation” about the alternatives as they can be envisaged.

Among the options are:

  • The steps taken will need to be assessed in advance and then monitored in action and sometimes restrictions that have been eased may even need to reversed again
  • Judgement will be applied to the best scientific impossible and UK wide collaboration will continue and international experience will be learnt from
  • Certain businesses in certain sectors can be reopened but only if they can change how we work to keep employees and customers two metres apart from each other
  • Classrooms may have to be redesigned to allow for social distancing so in some cases not all children can go back to or be at school at the same time
  • Some limited outdoor activity might be able to restart earlier than indoor activity but large gatherings and events are likely to be off for some months to come
  • We will also consider different approaches for different areas though the preference will be for as much consistency as possible
  • For older people and those with certain vulnerabilities some form of shielding will almost certainly be required for the foreseeable future

Ms Sturgeon said: “The hard part is that when we reach that point the virus will be under control only due to the severity of the restrictions we have all been living with but the virus will not have gone away so as we start to lift the restrictions the real risk – and it is a very real – is that Covid-19 runs rampant again.

“So a return to normal as we knew is not on the cards in the near future and it is really important that I am upfront with you right now about that – what we will be seeking to do which is find a new normal.

“A way of living alongside this virus but in a form that keeps under control and stops it taking the toll that we know it can do – social distancing and limiting of contact with others will be a fact of life for a long time to come, certainly until treatments vaccine offered different solutions.

“So that means possibly for the rest of the year and maybe even beyond and that's why thought of lifting the lockdown as though it is the flicking of a switch is misguided, when we take them, will need to be careful, gradual, incremental, and probably quite small to start with.”

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