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Face mask rules in Scotland to stay in force until April
15 March 2022, 17:44
Nicola Sturgeon has U-turned on a plan to end Scotland's face mask law from Monday after Scotland saw a surge in Covid cases.
The First Miniter said that despite Scotland making "steady progress back to normal life", she was pushing back the date for ditching face-covering laws by a fortnight.
She had previously signalled the legal requirement of wearing masks on public transport and in some indoor settings would be moved to guidance on March 21.
However, she told MSPs that the "current spike" in cases, meant it was "prudent" for this measure to remain in place and urged people to "be patient for a little while longer."
The First Minister gave her latest Covid-19 update to Holyrood as new figures showed 38,770 new cases of the virus have been confirmed since Saturday March 12.
The number of coronavirus patients in hospital has also continued to rise to the highest level for more than a year.
There were 1,996 people in hospital on Monday with recently confirmed Covid-19, up 191 on the previous day, with 33 in intensive care, up six.
Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that the legal requirement for businesses to keep customers' details in case these are needed for contact tracing will end as planned but she added: "Given the current spike in case numbers, we consider it prudent to retain this [face masks] requirement in regulation for a further short period.
"Ensuring continued widespread use of face coverings will provide some additional protection - particularly for the most vulnerable - at a time when the risk of infection is very high, and it may help us get over this spike more quickly."
The legal requirement will be reviewed again in two weeks' time, she added, with Ms Sturgeon saying the "expectation" was that it will become guidance rather than the law in "early April".
She went on to tell MSPs that advice on testing would also change next month, saying that from April 18 "we will no longer advise people without symptoms to test twice weekly".
She added: "With the exception of health and care settings, the advice to test regularly will also end from April 18 for workplaces, and for early learning and childcare settings, mainstream and special schools, and universities and colleges."
People who are a close contact of someone who is confirmed as having Covid will continue to be advised to do daily lateral flow tests until the end of April, while those with symptoms are still advised to get a PCR test up until that date.
She added: "Our intention is that from the end of April all routine population-wide testing will end, including for those who have symptoms.
"Contact tracing will end at this point too - although people with symptoms of respiratory illness will be advised to stay at home."
Test sites will close at the end of next month, and from May 1 testing will be carried out "on a targeted basis" and for surveillance purposes.
However Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said the government should have prepared for a rise in cases when restrictions eased and said face masks must go on Monday as planned.
"We can't get complacent with Covid but we have to move forward. We can't stay stuck with Covid rules forever," he said. "Why won't the First Minister trust the Scottish public to take the steps they think are right to protect themselves and their families?"
He described the U-turn as another blow to businesses, and asked what criteria would have to be met for Nicola Sturgeon to finally lift the last remaining Covid restriction.
Nicola Sturgeon said that "every single legal measure" will have been lifted aside from masks
"Given the spike we're seeing in cases right now and the very high risk of infection, this helps us protect each other," she said. "In particular, during this spike, it helps us to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and I think it will help us to get this spike under control more quickly than might otherwise be the case."
Reacting to the statement, Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland’s policy chair, said: “Businesses in Scotland face far fewer restrictions now than they did earlier in the pandemic. And today the First Minister outlined a timeline to lift many of the remaining rules, albeit slower than many would like.
“However, the impression that Scotland has a ‘first-in, last-out’ approach to covid restrictions frustrates many in business. At a time when debt-laden firms are facing dramatic fuel and utility hikes, operators are looking for Ministers to inject confidence, not seed doubt.”