SCOTLAND will move back to a levels system of coronavirus restrictions from the last week of April, the First Minister has confirmed.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, Nicola Sturgeon said it is hoped from then that all parts of the country currently in level 4 will move initially to level 3, possibly with “some revision” to the rules in each level.

“The advantages of the levels system is that it will allow us to let some parts of the country move faster than others, if the data supports that,” she told MSPs.

From the last week of April, Sturgeon says the public can expect to see “phased but significant” reopening of the economy – including non-essential retail, hospitality, and services like gyms and hairdressers.

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Further detail on the indicators which will guide decision-making on levels will be set out in mid-March.

“We envisage a progressive easing of the current level 4 restrictions that apply across most of Scotland at intervals of at least 3 weeks,” the First Minister explained.

The first easing began yesterday as schools started to go back. The next phase of easing is expected in another three weeks when it is hoped the next phase of school returns can begin.

The First Minister added it is hoped this phase will also see outdoor non-contact group sports for 12-17 year olds begin. It is also hoped that the limit on outdoor mixing will be increased to four people from a maximum of two households.

From April 5, it is the Scottish Government’ ambition to lift “stay at home” restrictions. “We would aim for any final phase of school return to take place on this date,” she said.

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Communal worship, Sturgeon added, may restart around April 5 with restricted numbers. At that point it is also aimed that outdoor gatherings can include six people from two households.

The First Minister went on: "In this phase, we will also begin the re-opening of retail. This will start with an extension of the definition of essential retail and the removal of restrictions on click-and collect.

"And then, 3 weeks after that as I indicated earlier - so from 26 April assuming the data allows it - we will move back to levels, with hopefully all of Scotland moving to level 3, albeit with some possible modifications."

After April it is hoped that Scotland will be able to reopen the economy and society in a more substantial way.

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The ability to do this would be based on the public continuing to suppress the virus and accepting trade-offs, like continuing restrictions on travel.

The First Minister acknowledged her strategy is “cautious” – something which is “essential” to control the virus but “extremely difficult” for businesses.

She said the Government is committed to continuing support for firms, adding that they will "support the strategic framework business fund until at least the end of June".

"I am as confident as I can be that the indicative, staged, timetable that I have set out today - from now until late April when the economy will start to substantially re-open - is a reasonable one," she told MSPs.

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Speaking on the vaccination numbers and declining Covid-19 cases, the First Minister told the Parliament: "I know how hard it is after 11 long months of this pandemic. But the restrictions are working. And we can now see our way out of them.

"So for the moment, please, continue to stick with it, and stick together.

"Stay at Home. Protect the NHS. Save lives."

More to follow