NICOLA Sturgeon has said her government will not act “rashly or recklessly” as she unveiled a “gradual process” of easing the coronavirus lockdown.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament yesterday, the First Minister outlined a four-phase plan for lifting the current restrictions which have been in place since March 23.

She underlined the route map does not give a precise timetable for reaching each of the phases, with timings dependent on how effective the virus is being suppressed and how it aligns with the development of work to test, trace and isolate people who have been infected.

She warned of the potential for a second wave of the virus later this year and underlined a need to balance individual freedom and collective responsibility.

“These restrictions have been absolutely necessary to mitigate the massive harm caused by the Covid-19 virus. However, the lockdown is creating harms of its own. Loneliness and social isolation, deepening inequalities and serious damage to our economy,” she said.

“None of us wants it to last any longer than it has to.”

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Sturgeon said the steps were “gradual and incremental” and would be matched with “rigorous and ongoing” monitoring of the virus.

“There is no completely risk-free way of lifting lockdown,” she warned.

“We must mitigate the risks as much as we can and we must not at any stage act rashly or recklessly.

“This virus has not gone away. It continues to pose a significant threat to health and if we move too quickly or without proper care it could become out of control again very quickly, and a danger of a second wave later in the year is very real indeed. We mustn’t forget any of that.”

She added that the biggest single factor in controlling the spread of the virus was in how well people observed public health advice, such as hand washing, cough hygiene and continued social distancing, as well as wearing face coverings in enclosed spaces.

“The nature of what we are dealing with means these proposals cannot be set in stone,” she warned.

“We’ll conduct formal reviews at least every three weeks to assess if and to what extent we can move from one phase to the next but will we be constantly alive to when we can go faster or whether indeed we have gone too far. It may be we can’t do everything in a particular phase at the same time, a single phase may expand more than one review period.”

She outlined which measures could be relaxed in the first stage of the exit process. This phase one – likely to begin shortly after the next lockdown review date of May 28, would permit more outdoor activity such as golf, tennis, bowls and fishing.

It would also allow people to meet others from one other household, if outdoors and complying with social-distancing rules.

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The First Minister said meeting people from other households indoors would not be permitted under phase one, but people can travel – preferably by walking or cycling – to a location near their local community for recreation, although it is encouraged to stay within or close to your local area.

Under this initial phase, waste and recycling facilities, as well as forestry, agriculture and construction work, could restart, Sturgeon added.

She went on to say children’s hearings, aspects of the criminal justice system and NHS services that were paused would resume. The later phases of the route map would set out when people would be able to see friends and family and how different activities could restart.

“We have sought to focus first on industries in which people simply cannot work from home. However, safety and the confidence of employers, employees and customers are essential,” she said. “We are indicating the phases in which service industries might re-open – businesses such as restaurants, bars and hairdressers.

“That last one is a priority, I know, for almost every woman in the country – and some men.”

She said lockdown could be eased as the latest estimate of the reproduction rate – or R number – for the virus, remained between 0.7 and one. In March, the R number was estimated to have been as high as four.

The First Minister also announced the latest Covid-19 statistics in Scotland. A total of 2221 patients have died after testing positive for coronavirus, up by 37 from 2184 on Wednesday.

She said 14,856 people have tested positive for the virus, up by 105 from 14,751 the day before. There are 1318 people in hospital in Scotland with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, a decrease of 125. Of these, 51 were in intensive care, a fall of two.