Last week, the Scottish first minister had indicated she would postpone the relaxation, saying it was “unlikely” that any area would see measures eased on 28 June – the date it had been hoped all of Scotland would move into level 0 restrictions.
This level, the lowest in the five-tier system north of the border, is only currently in place in the island authorities of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, with all mainland areas having either level 1 or level 2 restrictions applied.
Setting a new target, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs she hoped to move the whole of Scotland to the lowest level by 19 July – in three weeks’ time – which would represent a “significant step back to normality”.
She said the Scottish government expected to have all priority groups, including everyone over the age of 50 and those with underlying health conditions, fully vaccinated by the end of this week.
Ms Sturgeon also made clear that the 19 July cannot be an “endpoint”, with some significant restrictions remaining in force under level 0, including the limit on household gathering indoors.
“We want to move beyond level 0 as quickly as it is prudent to do so,” she said. “Our assessment on balance and assuming we meet the necessary conditions on vaccines and harm reduction is that it would be possible and proportionate to lift the major remaining legal restrictions by 9 August.”
It comes after Boris Johnson delayed the lifting of all remaining restrictions in England – postponing the final stage in the government’s roadmap until 19 July – due to concerns over the spread of the Delta variant, first detected in India.
Updating Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said “caution” was still required, as she outlined an increase of 40 per cent in new cases on the previous week, adding: “At the moment the high number of Covid cases being recorded is a significant consideration.”
“No part of the country will change Covid level next week,” she stressed. “Apart from some minor amendments, restrictions in all parts of the country, from Monday, will be unchanged”.
Announcing the delay to her government’s roadmap, she said: “We must not allow the virus to get too far ahead of the vaccines.
“Therefore, as indicated last week, we intend to maintain the current restrictions applicable in each part of Scotland for the next three weeks. Within those levels, though, we will make some minor but important changes to the rules on weddings and funerals. These will take effect from Monday 28 June.”
The first minister added: “Our assumption based on recent case numbers is that current levels will remain in force until 19 July and obviously we will keep that under review.
“Assuming we are meeting the revised strategic aim, we hope that all parts of Scotland, not currently in that level, can move to level 0 on 19 July.
“That means, for example, that the limits for household gatherings indoors will increase from that date, and up to 200 people will be able to attend weddings and funerals.
We also hope – assuming the data supports this – that the general indoor physical distancing requirement can be reduced from 2 metres to 1 metre. And we hope, from that date, to lift the outdoor requirement to physically distance.
“In addition – in recognition of the reduced risk of outdoor transmission and therefore the desire to encourage people to stay outdoors as much as possible – we hope that limits on informal outdoor social gatherings, in private gardens for example, will also be removed at this stage.”