There must not be a “reckless relaxation” of coronavirus lockdown measures to get Scotland’s economy moving again, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.
It comes as official figures show the number of Scots out of work increased by 30,000 to 127,000 over the period February to April.
With unemployment rising, she said an extension to the UK Government’s furlough scheme, in which the taxpayer has paid the wages of hundreds of thousands of Scots, is almost certainly essential.
The impact of the job retention scheme means the latest figures are “likely to be an underestimate of the full impact of Covid-19”, Ms Sturgeon said.
She said the planned easing of some restrictions later this week could help the economy, adding there could be some “really significant steps taken for all of Scotland to start to get us back to normal”.
Difficult though all of this is, we must guard against a reckless relaxation of lockdown measuresFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Ms Sturgeon revealed she could announce an indicative date for when non-essential shops can reopen their doors if Scotland – as expected – moves to the second phase of a four-part plan to end lockdown.
But the First Minister, speaking at her daily briefing in Edinburgh, warned “not all major changes will happen overnight”.
She added: “I do hope in the coming weeks that further important restrictions will be lifted so that, for example, workers can return to factories with strict hygiene and physical distancing measures in place, so the construction industry can continue with its own restart plan and so that non-essential retail businesses can have a date for safe reopening.
“None of this will restore the economy immediately to full health but it will be a significant and sustainable improvement on our current condition – and that of course is important.”
While she accepted rising levels of unemployment and “generally increasing economic anxiety” will lead to calls for Scotland to move more swiftly out of lockdown, she said restrictions must not be lifted too quickly.
The First Minister stressed: “Difficult though all of this is, we must guard against a reckless relaxation of lockdown measures.
“Because if we ease restrictions too quickly and allow the virus to run out of control again, that would be economically counterproductive but it would also cost many more lives.
“Indeed the progress that we have made suppressing the virus … is an essential foundation for the sustainable economic recovery that we want to secure.
“The more we can suppress this virus now the more normality we can restore as we do open up the economy and society.”
As of 2pm today 213,527 people in Scotland have been tested for #coronavirus— Scottish Government (@scotgov) June 16, 2020
195,482 confirmed negative
2,453 patients who tested positive have sadly died.
Latest update â¡ï¸ https://t.co/bZPbrCoQux
Health advice â¡ï¸ https://t.co/l7rqArB6Qu#COVIDã¼19 pic.twitter.com/zBGBNrIuW0
Ms Sturgeon announced 2,453 patients have now died in Scotland after testing positive for coronavirus, up five from 2,448 on Monday.
Ms Sturgeon said 18,045 people have tested positive for the virus in Scotland, up 15 from 18,030 the previous day.
There are 986 people in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, a rise of 116 on the previous day, while 19 people are in intensive care, a rise of one.
Referring to the progress that has been made tackling the virus, Ms Sturgeon said: “It is totally understandable that people think this virus has kind of gone away so we can afford to go more quickly.
“But the virus hasn’t gone away. It has been suppressed because of lockdown so as we leave lockdown we have got to be very careful we don’t do that at a pace that allows it to circulate again.”
She added: “This virus hasn’t gone away, and if we take our eye off the ball or we act recklessly right now we will allow it to spread again and I will be back here telling you about numbers that are much grimmer than the ones we are dealing with right now.”