Ms Sturgeon’s strategic framework for relaxing controls north of the border diverges in significant ways from the roadmap unveiled on Monday by Boris Johnson, who said he wanted to move England together as a whole towards the removal of virtually all restrictions by 21 June.
The first minister told the Scottish Parliament it was not “fair or reasonable” to set “arbitrary” target dates months into the future, and said she will wait until mid-March to lay out plans beyond the end of April.
But she also said – in contrast to Mr Johnson – that she was ready to let parts of Scotland with low infection rates move out of lockdown faster, and to accelerate the whole plan if vaccines succeed in driving Covid-19 rates down.
The Scottish plan initially envisages a slower return to normal social life than in England, with the phased reopening of non-essential retail, pubs and restaurants, gyms and hairdressers coming from 26 April, two weeks after they open their doors south of the border.
And having allowed the youngest children to return to primary schools ahead of their English counterparts this week, Ms Sturgeon will require others to wait longer. While England’s schools will open to all pupils in a ‘big bang’ on 8 March, Scotland’s return to classrooms will be staggered over the period to 5 April.
Asked why she was not laying out the full process of lifting restrictions today, Ms Sturgeon said: “I would love to stand here and say that by 21 June, we'll all be back to normal completely.
“I can't say that with any certainty at all, because I don't know what the grounding for that is, I don't know what assessment gives confidence on that.
“I think we've got to continue to treat people like grown-ups on this. People are fed up, we’re all fed up with this and we really want it to be over.
“But I think we all have developed an understanding that it can’t be magicked away. We’ve got to get there in the right way, and in a way that is going to prove to be sustainable.”
Ms Sturgeon confirmed that, in line with England, Scotland’s target for offering vaccines to all over-50s and people with certain health conditions is being brought forward to mid-April and for all adults to July.
Under her strategic framework, Scotland will move back to a system of regional restriction levels from the last week of April, with all parts of the country now in level 4 intended to move into level 3 at that point and then move down the tiers depending on local prevalence of the virus.
She said it was an advantage to be able to “let some parts of the country move faster than others if the data supports that”.
Ms Sturgeon said that the next phase of relaxation of restrictions will come from 15 March at the earliest, with the return of remaining primary pupils and older secondary years to school.
At this point, the limit on outdoor gatherings will be raised to four people from a maximum of two households, and outdoor non-contact sport will resume for 12 to 17-year-olds.
From 5 April, it is intended to lift the stay-at-home restriction and to allow all remaining children to return to school, as well as permitting restricted numbers of people to take part in communal worship.
Limits on household gatherings are expected to be eased further to allow six people from two households to meet, and restrictions on click-and-collect retail will be removed.
Three weeks later on 26 April, Ms Sturgeon said, if data allows, “we will begin to reopen the economy and society in the more substantial way that we are all longing for”.
The first minister said she will publish a further document in mid-March detailing the next steps.
She told MSPs: “I know that people across the country are anxious for as much clarity as possible. I want to give as much as possible today, while avoiding giving false assurance, or picking arbitrary dates that have no grounding at this stage in any objective assessment.
“I am as confident as I can be that the indicative staged timetable that I’ve set out today, from now until late April when the economy will start to substantially reopen, is a reasonable one.
“And in mid-March when we have made further progress on vaccines and have a greater understanding of the impact of the initial phase of school returns, I hope we can set out then more detail on the further reopening that will take place over April and May and into the summer, when we really hope to be living with much greater freedom than we are today.”