Scotland delays lockdown easing again after 40% increase in Covid cases

'These numbers still shock': First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announces restrictions to remain until July 19

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks to the media after receiving her second dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the NHS Louisa Jordan vaccine centre on June 21, 2021 in Glasgow. / AFP / POOL / Jeff J Mitchell
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Scotland's government has postponed the lifting of coronavirus restrictions after a sharp rise in new Covid-19 infections.

The country recorded a 40 per cent increase in cases over the past week, driven in part by the Delta variant, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

“Today’s total of new positive tests is the largest we’ve seen since the peak in January,” she told the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday. “These numbers still shock.”

She said changes to current restriction levels in Scotland would be postponed until July 19 to allow more people to get Covid-19 vaccinations. By July 18, all adults will have been offered at least one dose.

The first minister said it was then hoped that all of Scotland could move to the lowest level of restrictions three weeks later than the initially planned date of June 28.

A total of 2,167 cases were recorded in Scotland in the past 24 hours – the highest daily figure since January 8.

Setting out a series of vaccination milestones, Ms Sturgeon said if these and other criteria were met the majority of restrictions would be lifted entirely by August 9.

“Our assessment – on balance and assuming we meet the necessary conditions on vaccination and harm reduction – is that it would be possible and proportionate to lift the major remaining legal restrictions on August 9," she said.

“We will consider and make a final assessment nearer the time of whether – as we hope – this could include the lifting of the legal requirement to physically distance indoors as well as outdoors.”

She said the government would not recommend an immediate return to office working once all restrictions were lifted.

Guidance for weddings and funerals will be also changed, with some minor easing of the rules taking place from Monday.

Wedding staff will no longer count towards the limit on attendees, while those accompanying the couple down the aisle will no longer need to wear face coverings.

For funerals, people from more than one household will be allowed to carry a coffin or take a cord when lowering it.

More substantial changes for weddings and funerals will take place on July 19, when the cap on attendees is expected to rise to 200 people.

Ms Sturgeon spoke about the government’s review of physical distancing, which was published on Tuesday.

Depending on vaccination progress, it proposes removing all legal physical distancing requirements on August 9.

However, the First Minister said some “basic mitigations”, such as regular hand-washing, surface-cleaning and good ventilation, would continue beyond then.

“Of course, while this is a longed-for moment, it is important to recognise that we still have a difficult path to navigate over the next few weeks to meet these milestones and, even assuming we do, the pandemic will not be completely over at this stage," she said.