People in Scotland who are shielding due to being classed as at higher risk from coronavirus will no longer need to from August 1, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
The First Minister also revealed some further easing on restrictions for people in this category from Friday, including enabling them to meet more people both indoors and outdoors.
She said figures such as there being no deaths of people who tested positive for the virus recorded in the past week – meaning the toll remains at 2,491 – and only one in the past 15 days show the “incredible progress” made since the country went into lockdown.
Addressing those who have been shielding throughout lockdown due to an underlying health condition, she said it has been “incredibly difficult” and there could be “very real” damage done to the mental health of those in that category.
From Friday, they will be able to meet up to eight people from two different households indoors, as well as four different households outdoors.
Ms Sturgeon said her advisers have told her shielding will be able to be “paused” from August 1, with those in the category able to follow the guidance for those who are at higher risk from the virus, such as the elderly.
Children who are shielding will be able to go back to school and adults will be able to return to work if it is deemed safe to do so.
Employers will have to ensure it is safe for a shielding person to return to work, although it remains Scottish Government guidance that working from home should be the default position if possible.
The First Minister sent a “sincere and heartfelt” thanks to those who are shielding.
She added: “That has been incredibly tough and it’s easy for me to say that but the reality is I actually find it hard to fully imagine just how difficult it has been.
“Shielding and shielding people demonstrate, perhaps more powerfully than anything does, just how all of us are dependent right now on each other’s actions.
“The reason that we can pause shielding, hopefully at the end of next week, is because all of us have stuck to the guidance so far – and all of us need to continue to do that in order that we continue collectively to protect those at risk.”
The First Minister announced 16 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Scotland in the past day – 0.4% of those tested – taking the total 18,500.
She said provisional figures indicate four of the new cases are in Lanarkshire and added there are now 24 cases linked to the outbreak at the Sitel call centre in the region, up from 20 yesterday.
“Given that the virus can have a long incubation period, intensive work is still ongoing in order to ensure that all possible chains of transmission are being closed down,” she said.