THE First Minister has raised the prospect of Scotland pursuing a different exit strategy and lifting the lockdown at a different time from the rest of the UK.

Nicola Sturgeon made the point during her daily press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic. She also announced that the official hospital death toll has risen to 575.

Social distancing measures aimed at limiting the spread of the virus and preventing the NHS from becoming overwhelmed were adopted in Scotland the same day as the rest of the UK, March 23.

But yesterday, the First Minister said the Scottish Government may decide differently from the UK Government on when to end restrictions.

“In terms of exit strategy we need to understand a bit more about the impact these measures have had ... and we need to understand what the impact would be on starting to release these measures,” she said.

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“Will we do this at the same time in Scotland as the rest of the UK? That will depend on what the evidence tells us. It’s not a point about constitutional ideology either way.

“Ideally, I think for reasons of simplicity ... the more consistency across the UK we have in what we are doing the better, but if the evidence tells us we need to do something different in Scotland to the rest of the UK, or do it on a different timescale, I would not hesitate to do that.”

She later developed her point when asked about whether lockdown was implemented early enough after UK Government advisor Sir Jeremy Farrar said the UK could end up with the highest death toll in Europe.

“I, as First Minister, took decisions based on the best advice we had. In the fullness of time there will rightly and properly a lot of scrutiny of what was done and not done and whether that was the right or wrong thing to do,” she said.

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“When these lockdown measures were applied Scotland was at an earlier stage of the infection curve, so I would hope we would see the impact of that. We took decisions for reasons we set out at the time to ban large gatherings slightly before the rest of the UK.”

Also attending the briefing, interim chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith urged families of those who have died during the outbreak not to delay funerals, in a bid to stop a backlog. He said: “The sector can cope, if everyone understands and appreciates the circumstances that we find ourselves in and continues to arrange a funeral for loved ones as normal, and I do stress, without delay.”

Smith went on: “At this time, it’s very important that people do not delay funerals of their loved ones.

“It’s important that people are able to grieve the passing of a loved one, but delaying the funeral in anticipation of social distancing measures being lifted could increase strain on funeral and mortuary services responding to coronavirus.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the NHS in Scotland has enough capacity to deal with the outbreak, having trebled capacity to treat intensive care patients.

She said work is still being undertaken to further increase that, with a target of quadrupling the initial capacity.

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During the briefing, the First Minister also announced £17 million of a £50m fund has been earmarked for charities supporting people through the crisis.

Some £10m has been allocated for “immediate priorities” while the other £7m will be handed out in small grants to around 2000 charities.

The remaining £33m is open to bids from organisations in the charity sector.

A helpline will also be launched today to support people who are vulnerable but not in one of the shielded groups.

A total of 6067 people have now tested positive for the virus Scotland, up 155 from 5912 the day before, with nine more deaths.

There are currently 211 people in intensive care with the coronavirus or its symptoms.

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