First minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that Scotland's move to Level 0 and ease on restrictions will, like England, be delayed until 19 July instead of being lifted next week as was previously planned, with some minor changes to restrictions on weddings.
This follows a 40% increase in cases, higher than at any point since late January, however Sturgeon said there was evidence that "the link between new cases and serious health harm is weakening" due to the vaccination programme.
She announced the government's focus was shifting from suppressing the virus to the lowest level possible to suppressing it to a level consistent with reducing its harms, including wider health, social and economic harms.
From Monday 28 June minor changes will be made to the restrictions on weddings and funerals. Suppliers of wedding services will no longer count towards the cap on numbers; those accompanying a wedding couple down the aisle will no longer need to wear face coverings; live entertainment at receptions will now be possible, although guests will still need to remain seated; and people from more than one household will be permitted to help carry a coffin.
Sturgeon said: "They are relatively minor changes but I hope they will make some difference to those organising and attending weddings and funerals, ahead of the more substantive changes that we hope to see at Level 0 next month."
She said restrictions will be eased sooner or later depending on the data and the move to Level 0 for the entire country will be confirmed the prior week. This could mean that, from 19 July, up to 200 people will be able to attend weddings and funerals, indoor physical distancing requirements will be reduced from two metres to one metre and there will be no requirement to physically distance outdoors at informal gatherings. However, limits on organised outdoor events will remain in line with current Level 0 restrictions "temporarily".
It is then hoped the remaining legal restrictions will be lifted on 9 August including social distancing and a return to "almost complete normality". Although some basic mitigations are expected to remain, such as face coverings in certain settings such as shops and public transport, testing, isolation in the event of a positive coronavirus test and some targeted travel restrictions.
Sturgeon also said the government would not be advising an immediate return to workplaces but would instead work with businesses on phasing this return, encouraging employers to continue home working "where possible and appropriate".
Spokesperson for the Scottish Hospitality Group's (SHG) Stephen Montgomery urged the Scottish government to focus on the vaccination programme. He said: "While large numbers of people in Scotland have still not had their first vaccination, Scottish businesses are needlessly closing. We see mass vaccination programmes happening south of the border: we now need to see that happening in Scotland."
Kenny Blair, managing director of Scottish hospitality chain Buzzworks, added: "If the Scottish government can't or won't offer proper financial support for businesses that can't trade viably, then mass vaccinations are the answer. The majority of my team are under 25 and have not received a jab. They are the age-group that are now bearing the brunt of isolation. It not only means that they can't work but is increases their anxiety, stress and ultimately their mental health.
"We would happily shut all of our premises for the day if that meant that we were adding another layer of protection both for our teams and our customers, so that our staff could get the jab."
Photo: Flickr - Scottish Government