Most of Scotland’s remaining Covid restrictions end

Posted: 21st March 2022

Most of the remaining legal Covid restrictions in Scotland have now officially come to an end.

Businesses are no longer required to retain customers’ contact details.

However, the legal requirement to wear face coverings in shops, hospitality venues and public transport remains in place.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the rule will stay for “a further short period” because of the surge in cases.

The measure will be reviewed again before the Scottish Parliament’s Easter recess on 2 April, and is expected to become guidance shortly afterwards.

Vaccine boosters have already been offered to the most vulnerable people and public health experts expect them to be rolled out to people in their 50s and 60s in the autumn.

Asymptomatic people will still be advised to test regularly until 18 April – with tests free of charge – and people with symptoms should continue to get a PCR test until the end of that month.

However, the population-wide testing and contact tracing system will come to a close at the end of April, with people with symptoms advised to stay at home.

It comes amid warnings that the latest Covid surge in Scotland may peak within the next fortnight..

On Friday, there were 2,050 patients in hospital with Covid, just three short of the record figure recorded on 22 January 2021.

The latest Office for National Statistics figures also showed one in 14 people in Scotland had Covid last week, a new record high and the highest rate in the UK.

The latest surge is believed to be driven by the more infectious BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron.

Professor Linda Bauld, an expert in public health at the University of Edinburgh who also advises the government, told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland the NHS was “under real pressure”.

Omicron infections tend to be milder and with a large proportion of people vaccinated, the risks of becoming seriously unwell with this variant are relatively low.

However Prof Bauld said that with a high number of infections in the community “a small proportion of that is still a large number”.

People in hospital for other reasons who also have Covid require more protocols “which take more time”, she added, noting that waiting lists and staff absences had also been affected by outbreaks.

Prof Bauld said: “If you talk to any of my clinical colleagues they will tell you it remains a very difficult time, and we shouldn’t forget that.”

Vaccination programme not over

Vaccine protection could be waning and contributing to hospital numbers “in a modest way”, she added.

She said people should take up the offer of vaccines and expect future vaccines to protect against multiple variants.

“I think it is probably likely that as we head towards the autumn people, for example, in the their 50s, 60s will be eligible,” Prof Bould said. “The vaccination programme is not going away.”

Some public health experts have questioned whether face coverings will have any effect on the jump in case numbers.

Christine Tait-Burkard, from The Roslin Institute, has told BBC Scotland the impact that mask-wearing makes without many of the other restrictions in place “is small, or is smaller than it ever was before”.

But she backed the extended retention of the legal requirement as “last reminder” of the need for caution.

‘Be patient’

The first minister has said a sharp rise in infections was putting “significant pressure on hospital capacity”, but that vaccines were still giving people good protection.

Ms Sturgeon, giving an update on the government’s strategic framework for managing the virus last week, said she needed to “ask everyone to be patient for a little while longer on face coverings”.

The Scottish Conservatives have described the retention of the mask rules as “a blow for households and businesses”.

Scottish Labour’s finance spokesman Daniel Johnson said the challenges facing Scotland’s economy “didn’t start with Covid and they won’t end today”.

He added: “Businesses across Scotland will breathe a sigh of relief as restrictions are lifted – but there is no room for complacency.

“The cost of living crisis will pile added pressure on to businesses, but the SNP and the Tory governments are failing to get to grips with the challenge.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said its economic plan included “a ruthless focus on working with business and industry to deliver the changes we want to see”.


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