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Sturgeon ‘cautiously optimistic’ amid calls to end Covid restrictions

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will update Holyrood on Tuesday afternoon about the Scottish Government’s plans for coronavirus rules.

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Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the coronavirus situation is not as bad as she had feared before Christmas (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the coronavirus situation is not as bad as she had feared before Christmas (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the coronavirus situation is not as bad as she had feared before Christmas (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

Nicola Sturgeon has said she is “cautiously optimistic” about Scotland’s coronavirus situation ahead of a statement announcing any changes to restrictions.

The First Minister said the country is “in a better position than I feared we would be before Christmas”, but would not comment on whether she plans to follow Wales with a mass easing of Covid rules.

Her comments came as the Scottish Tories called for the scrapping of most coronavirus restrictions, with the exception of face coverings.

Ms Sturgeon will chair a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning before updating Holyrood about the Government’s plans later in the afternoon.

Asked about any possible changes to the coronavirus measures, Ms Sturgeon told the PA news agency: “I think everybody wants to see Covid end so it follows that everybody – me included – wants to see all restrictions end.

“I’m not going to pre-empt my statement tomorrow.

“I think what Mark Drakeford set out last week is broadly in line with what I set out earlier last week.

“They are lifting restrictions over a two-week period.

“Today the restriction on outdoor large-scale events is lifted (in Scotland).

“I hope we’ll be able to follow the trajectory I set out last week when I make my statement tomorrow, but the cabinet needs to look at all of the up-to-date data tomorrow and come to decisions.

“Looking at that data right now, we’ve got reasons to continue to be cautiously optimistic that we’re turning the corner on this Omicron wave.

“That’s because people have responded magnificently, they’ve behaved in a way that’s helped stem to some extent the transmission of Omicron and we took sensible, balanced, proportionate steps.

“So we’re in a better position than I feared we would be before Christmas. But there’s still a need for caution because the health service, for example, continues to be under very, very acute pressure.”

As well as an end to current restrictions on businesses that put a cap of 100 on indoor standing events and 200 on seated events, enforce table service for alcohol-selling businesses and mandate social distancing between groups, the Tories are looking for the First Minister to announce the scrapping of the vaccine passport scheme along with guidance on household mixing and social distancing.

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The Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross called for fewer restrictions ahead of the First Minister’s Covid-19 update on Tuesday (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

The Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross called for fewer restrictions ahead of the First Minister’s Covid-19 update on Tuesday (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

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The Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross called for fewer restrictions ahead of the First Minister’s Covid-19 update on Tuesday (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

The Tory plea, which would see changes come into effect from January 31, also calls for mask-wearing in schools to be dropped and work-from-home guidance to be dropped, while self-isolation would be “gradually phased out” over a period of months.

“The Scottish Government’s own data shows that we are past the peak of Omicron. The latest evidence means we can now be far more optimistic,” Douglas Ross said.

“Protecting mental health, physical health and Scottish jobs is every bit as important as slowing the spread of Covid. Our economy and the long-term health of the public must not be held back any longer than necessary.”

Mr Ross added: “We believe the balance must now tip in favour of trusting the Scottish public to do the right thing and keep themselves and their families safe, as they have done throughout this pandemic.

“People across Scotland have learned to live with Covid. The success of Scotland and the UK’s vaccine scheme means the public can now tackle Covid through their own actions, without the need for so many government restrictions.”

This statement is the SNP’s opportunity to listen to and address the concerns of frontline NHS staff and patientsJackie Baillie

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour have urged the First Minister to address issues in the NHS and provide support for small businesses.

“Just last week, we had Test and Protect staff being forced to turn to the media because their calls for further assistance had fallen on deaf ears,” deputy leader Jackie Baillie said.

“We have health boards going beyond ‘code black’ and reducing GP as well as hospital services; a staffing crisis with overworked employees at breaking point, and a social care system that is still reeling from the impact of SNP decisions at the start of the pandemic.

“This statement is the SNP’s opportunity to listen to and address the concerns of frontline NHS staff and patients.

“Scottish Labour also want to see a ramping-up of support for small businesses.

“Small businesses are the bedrock of Scotland’s economic recovery and deserve better support from the SNP government.

“Announcements of money are always welcome but it is taking too long to reach those businesses most in need.”

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at Edinburgh University, said there is now enough data to be confident that cases have been reducing since early January.

She told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Tuesday: “I think we’ve got enough data now to see what the true picture is, and I think that the reduction in infection in the community appears genuine.”

She said the only caveat is that schools have returned recently and the full picture from this may not yet have emerged.

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