Lockdown restrictions will ease in Scotland on 12 March - the rules you need to know
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced changes to the route map out of lockdown in Scotland, including when people can begin to meet up again.
The acceleration of lockdown easing comes as Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the NHS was in the final stages of providing the first dose of the vaccine to the top nine priority groups.
So, what are the changes to the route map and what does it mean for social distancing and the ‘stay at home’ rule? This is what you need to know.
What changes have been made to social distancing?
The First Minister has announced a “cautious acceleration of lockdown easing”, beginning with the rules on meeting up outdoors.
At present, no more than two adults can meet outside in a public space in level four areas, although children under 12 are not included in this restriction.
From 12 March, up to four adults from two households will be able to meet locally in any outdoor space, including in private gardens, for social and recreational purposes as well as exercise.
Interactions will be able to take place in any outdoor space - including private gardens.
People should only go indoors to reach a back garden or to use a toilet, and households should only meet up close to home.
Outdoor non-contact sports and group exercise will also be allowed for adults in groups of up to 15 people.
On 9 March, Nicola Sturgeon said: "The changes announced today, while modest, are important, and are designed to help people’s health and well-being by enabling group exercise and allowing more social interaction. They will also let children see more of their friends, and exercise and play more normally.
"I expect that further, more substantial changes will be possible in the weeks ahead, and I will set out as much detail as I can about that in Parliament next week. If the data allows us to relax more restrictions more quickly than we have previously indicated, we will not hesitate to do so.”
What are the rules for children meeting outdoors?
Young people aged 12 to 17 will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to four people from four different households.
They will also be allowed to participate in organised activities in groups of up to 15 and travel across into other local authorities to participate in organised activities.
Children younger than 12 remain able to mix in larger groups and do not count towards the limit placed on groups of adults of older children.
Why has the lockdown easing been accelerated?
The move to alleviate restrictions has come after a significant drop in the number of cases of coronavirus in Scotland, as well as the increased number of vulnerable people now vaccinated.
On 9 March, the Scottish Government said it was ready to deliver approximately 400,000 vaccines a week from the end of March.
The government also announced nearly 1.8 million people have had their first vaccine in Scotland and around 123,000 have received their second dose.
Jeane Freeman told how “Scotland’s COVID-19 vaccination programme is now able to move to the final stages of vaccinating the first nine priority groups before progressing to people aged under 50.”
She added that the speed at which vaccinations are rolled out is subject to supply and urged everyone invited to have their vaccination to do so.
Freeman thanked the NHS for its speedy vaccine roll out, commenting: "the roll-out continues to deliver at pace, which is down to the enormous efforts of our vaccination teams.”
Nicola Sturgeon said of the easing of restrictions: “In recent weeks, we have seen a significant fall in new cases, deaths and hospital admissions, and the vaccination programme is progressing beyond our initial expectations.
“All of this is excellent news, and provides strong grounds for hope, but that hope must also be balanced by caution.”
What other restrictions will be lifted early?
Nicola Sturgeon has said that if Covid cases continue to fall, the Scottish Government intends to reopen places of worship with attendance limits increased from 20 to 50, from Friday 26 March.
This will only be applicable in venues where there is space for social distancing. The revised date is one week earlier than originally suggested at the initial announcement of the route map out of lockdown, when religious leaders were told they may be able to reopen from 2 April.
A final decision will be taken on Tuesday 23 March ahead of Passover, Easter, Ramadan and Vaisakhi.
Ms Sturgeon confirmed that on 15 March, unless there is new evidence forcing the government to reconsider, phase two of the school return will come into effect.
On that date, primaries four to seven will return on a full time basis, and there will also be a phased return of secondary school pupils.
When is the next Covid announcement in Scotland?
Ms Sturgeon is expected to announce the latest Covid death figures, vaccination statistics and easing of lockdown restriction on Monday 15 March.
This is televised on BBC Scotland and on the BBC website.