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Next week may be too early to ease lockdown, warns Nicola Sturgeon

Scotland’s First Minister was speaking during her Government’s daily coronavirus briefing.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said progress made to tackle coronavirus is ‘fragile’ (handout/PA)

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said progress made to tackle coronavirus is ‘fragile’ (handout/PA)

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said progress made to tackle coronavirus is ‘fragile’ (handout/PA)

Next week may be too early to safely lift any of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, Scotland’s First Minister has said.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, the First Minister said “real progress” has been made on tackling the spread of the virus and the R number, or infection rate, is believed to be below one.

The progress we have made is real and it is significant, but it is still very fragileNicola Sturgeon

This means each person infected with the virus passes it on to less than one other person, and is down from above three at the start of the lockdown.

But Ms Sturgeon warned these gains are too “fragile” to enable her to be confident that lockdown restrictions can be eased at the next review date of May 7, but this will be kept under review over the next week.

She said it is too early to introduce a scheme previously suggested which would allow people to see a small “bubble” of others outside their immediate household, saying “anything like that right now might edge us over the crucial one number”.

She also announced the number of people who have died after testing positive for the virus in Scotland has risen to 1,475, up 60 from 1,415 on Wednesday.

She said 11,353 people have now tested positive for Covid-19, up by 319 from 11,034 the day before.

There are 1,748 people in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, up 21 from 1,727 the previous day. Of these patients, 109 are in intensive care, a drop of five.

While the Scottish Government published plans seven days ago for gradually easing the lockdown, the First Minister said on Thursday that she still has to deliver “tough messages”.

She said: “I have to be straight with you, it may very well be too early, even this time next week, in any meaningful way, to safely lift any of the current restrictions.”

She said the fall in the R number is “real and very positive progress”, but added: “However, we are not confident that the R number is very far below one yet, and that means any easing up at all in the current restriction – either formally by Government decisions or informally by people becoming a bit less compliant as we all get more and more weary and frustrated – would quickly send it back above one.

“The point I am making today is not an easy one, but it is an essential one. The progress we have made is real and it is significant, but it is still very fragile.

“The margins we have for ensuring the virus doesn’t take off again are really, really tight. That means we must be very cautious at this stage.”

She said the public has generally been “superb” at sticking to the restrictions.

But she said in the last week there has been evidence of more people making journeys.

The number of people using concessionary transport increased by almost a sixth, while the amount of traffic on the roads rose this week by about 5% – and by up to 10% on some urban routes.

The First Minister said while both of these increases were from a low starting point, they are still a “source of concern”.

She continued: “You might think it is only you making an extra journey, and it is only one trip. And you might feel you deserve it after weeks of restraint. Believe me, I really understand all of that.

“But all of it adds up. And if everybody starts easing off, the virus will quickly take off again and it will have devastating consequences for all of us.”

PA