Scotland to lift Covid ban on large gatherings from Monday

Restrictions on large outdoor events in Scotland will be lifted from next Monday, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed, as she told Holyrood that the latest Covid infection data indicated “we may be starting to turn a corner”.

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But Sturgeon also warned MSPs that while the country was on a path to Covid becoming endemic, “that is not a shift that any government can just declare or wish into being”.


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She said the latest revelations about Downing Street’s “serial” rule-breaking were “deeply angering and upsetting” to people who had made significant personal sacrifices to follow government guidance.

Before the statement Holyrood’s presiding officer, Alison Johnstone, issued a strong rebuke to the first minister after a draft of her weekly Covid update was reported by some media outlets, describing the leak as “extremely disappointing and disrespectful to this parliament and its elected members”.

Sturgeon assured Johnstone there would be an inquiry into the origin of the leak.

Ending the limit of 500 people at outdoor events that has been in place since Boxing Day will mean that football fans can return to stadiums when the Scottish Premiership’s winter break ends next week, and that Scotland’s Six Nations rugby matches can be played in front of crowds at Murrayfield next month.

The relaxation came as the Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, resisted pressure for large crowds to be allowed back into football and rugby grounds, saying restrictions – which include a limit of 50 people meeting at outdoor events – remained necessary while the country was still “in the teeth of the Omicron storm”.

At first minister’s questions on Tuesday, Drakeford said: “We have the latest modelling – it shows that the peak of the wave is yet to be reached in Wales, we may be 10 days away form the peak. Every week we take advice from the chief medical officer and others. When they tell us it is safe to lift restrictions, we are eager to do that. We are not in that situation yet”.

Sturgeon told MSPs that in Scotland a combination of the “protective measures introduced before Christmas, responsible action on the part of the general public, and the rapid delivery of booster vaccines has had a positive impact”.

She said she hoped to lift other restrictions in the coming weeks, including limits on attendances at live public events, the requirement for distancing between groups in public indoor places and the requirement for table service in hospitality venues serving alcohol.

She said her cabinet would continue to consider the possibility of extending the requirement for Covid passports, which are currently needed for nightclub entry, to other venues.

She stressed that government advice remained to wear face masks on public transport and in shops and hospitality settings, to work from home where possible, to avoid social contact with other households and to limit the number of households meeting indoors to three.

Sturgeon also announced £5m in capital funding to improve ventilation in schools and nurseries, following updated guidance that included the use of air cleaning devices. She said her government would publish a revised strategic framework “within the next few weeks” on living with the virus longer term.

“We know that we cannot continually rely on restrictive measures to manage the virus. But equally we cannot be indifferent to the continued risks the virus poses to health and wellbeing. So we need to consider what adaptations we can make to manage these risks in a way that is much less disruptive to our lives and much less of a daily presence in our minds,” the first minister said.

Asked about the impact of the latest reports about UK government rule-breaking on Scotland’s public health messages, Sturgeon said that “people across the country are aghast at the revelations about Downing Street’s conduct”.

“It appears not just one isolated breach but serial breaches of guidance that people were following through painful sacrifices through this pandemic and a prime minister who apparently is not being truthful about his knowledge of these matters. I don’t think it will surprise anybody to hear my view that the office of prime minister would be greatly enhanced by Boris Johnson’s departure from it. But more importantly, I think at this moment in time, the interests of the United Kingdom would be enhanced by that as well,” she said.

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