Restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid in Scotland are to be lifted from Monday, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.
The First Minister said more recent figures, showing a fall in infections, “gives us confidence that we have turned the corner on the Omicron wave”.
As a result she confirmed the measures – a limit on the numbers at indoor events, table service only at bars and other places selling alcohol and the closure of nightclubs – will be lifted from January 24.
Guidance limiting gatherings to a maximum of three households will also end on the same date, Ms Sturgeon added, along with restrictions preventing adults from taking part in indoor contact sports.
Although significant pressures and uncertainties do remain, the data nevertheless gives us confidence that we have turned the corner on the Omicron wave.First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
She also said there would be no extension to coronavirus vaccine passports at the moment, stating: “Given that cases are now falling quite rapidly, and the current wave is receding, we decided that we will not at this stage extend the Covid certification scheme to other premises.”
The announcement comes the day after the Scottish Government lifted its cap on numbers at outdoor events, with the First Minister saying the situation was now “much more positive” than it had been earlier in January, when cases had spiked.
Speaking at Holyrood, the First Minister said: “Although significant pressures and uncertainties do remain, the data nevertheless gives us confidence that we have turned the corner on the Omicron wave.”
She told MSPs: “A combination of booster vaccinations, the willingness of the public to adapt their behaviour to help stem transmission, and the temporary protective measures introduced in December, has helped blunt the impact of the Omicron wave.”
Her comments came as the latest figures show Scotland recorded another 7,752 cases of people being infected with the virus, along with a further 31 deaths.
Meanwhile, the number of people in hospital has fallen by 21 to 1,546, with 59 people in intensive care, a rise of one.
Ms Sturgeon said over the last week the number of people testing positive with a PCR test had fallen from “an average of almost 13,000 a day to just over 4,600” – a drop of 64%, with cases declining in all age groups.
As a result, the First Minister said she could “say with some confidence that the rise in cases driven by Omicron peaked in the first week of January and that we are now on the downward slope of this wave of cases”.
Ms Sturgeon however stressed there were “still some uncertainties ahead” adding that “throwing all caution to the wind would be a mistake”.
The First Minister said: “The full impact of the return to work and school after the festive break won’t be apparent yet in the data.
“So it is possible that we will see case numbers tick up again in the next couple of weeks.”
As a result, she said it “makes sense” for remaining restrictions to be lifted on a phased basis.
Scottish Tory health spokesman, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said Ms Sturgeon’s statement “begins a sea change” in Government policy – away from “a rules-based approach, more towards trusting the Scottish public”.
When you're coming out of a wave of this virus, the worst thing to do is to lift all restrictions at exactly the same timeNicola Sturgeon
But the First Minister rejected Dr Gulhane’s assertion the Government did not go far enough on relieving restrictions after the Tories called for an end to home working and the vaccine passport scheme.
“The approach that we are taking – have taken – is balanced, it is appropriately and suitably cautious and it is data-driven and for all these reasons it stands in stark contrast to the approach that the Conservatives have proposed at each and every stage,” she said.
The First Minister added: “I continue to be really surprised that Dr Gulhane asks me for evidence of things I think even non-clinically qualified people see as pretty obvious.
“When you’re coming out of a wave of this virus, the worst thing to do is to lift all restrictions at exactly the same time and allow all of the mixing and interactions that we have been trying to restrict to happen again all at once.”
Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar, said “too many businesses are teetering on the brink”, raising the case of more than 100 staff at two Glasgow theatres who have not been paid in more than a month due to delays in support.
Asked what she would do to speed up support, the First Minister said: “As I said last week, we are working with local authorities, with other agencies, to get this money (into) the bank accounts of those who need it as quickly as possible.”
The First Minister went on to say checks had to be undertaken to guard against fraudulent claims.