Covid guidance that required Scots to work from home where possible is being ditched in favour of hybrid working, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
The First Minister said the “significantly improved situation”, with cases of coronavirus falling, meant the changes could be made.
She announced the current guidance on working from home, which had been strengthened after the emergence of the Omicron variant, was being updated.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Instead of recommending home working whenever practical, the new guidance will pave the way for a phased return to the office.
“It will recommend that, from Monday January 31, employers should consider implementing hybrid working, following appropriate guidance, with workers spending some time in the office and some time at home.”
However, she said the change was not expected to spark a “wholesale return to the office next week”, with the First Minister adding that, at this stage in the pandemic, a “mass return” is “likely to set progress back”.
Other changes will mean adults taking part in organised activities with children will no longer need to wear face coverings.
The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) welcomed the move, saying it would provide a boost to city and town centre businesses that have seen a drop in footfall.
“The rescinding of the work-from-home order and the return of commuters and office workers is great news and should give a much-needed fillip to shopper footfall, particularly in Scotland’s larger towns and city centres,” said David Lonsdale, the director of the SRC.
“City centre stores have been especially hard hit by the exodus of office workers, civil servants, students and tourists during the pandemic.”
The group also called for a “concerted effort to entice shoppers back to our city centres”.
But Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government was not considering, “at this stage”, ending the need for face coverings to be worn by staff and pupils in secondary schools.
While she accepted some schoolchildren “want to see the back” of face coverings in schools, she added that “many young people understand and agree – especially when cases in the younger age group are rising – that face coverings do provide important protection”.
However, she pledged the issue would “receive careful ongoing consideration”, with members of the Scottish Government’s advisory sub-group on education meeting today.
Her comments came after the Scottish Government relaxed restrictions that had been imposed in the wake of the Omicron variant on Monday.
This allowed nightclubs to open again, with bars no longer required to use table service, while meet-ups no longer need to be limited to a maximum of three households.
As a result, the First Minister said: “I know that many people now, and rightly so, will be looking forward to getting back to concerts, shows, sporting occasions and other events.
“Many others will be looking forward to meeting up with larger groups of friends, or having a pint at a bar without the need for table service.”
But she stressed there still needed to be a “degree of continued caution, even as we enjoy a return to pre Omicron normality”.
Today, 8,022 more people have tested positive for #coronavirus
1,392 people were in hospital yesterday with #coronavirus which is 43 fewer than the day before
Sadly, 23 more people who tested positive have died. (10,222 in total)
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) January 25, 2022
The latest daily figures showed Scotland recorded another 23 coronavirus-linked deaths and 8,022 new cases in the past 24 hours.
Overall reported cases have fallen by just over a quarter in the last week, to about 7,000 a day – although Ms Sturgeon said that this decline in numbers “may be starting to plateau”, as she noted that cases amongst those aged under 15 were “actually rising”.
The First Minister added: “Hundreds of people with Covid are still being admitted to hospital each week, which means the NHS is still under immense pressure.
“We can say without fear of contradiction that this is the toughest winter it has ever faced.
“And we know that – however welcome – any lifting of protective measures that have helped stem transmission, can lead to an uptick of cases in the weeks that follow.
“So all this demands a degree of continued caution, even as we enjoy a return to pre Omicron normality.”
Labour leader Anas Sarwar urged the First Minister to sign on to his party’s proposals to live with the virus.
The Labour proposals, which were unveiled on Monday, called for putting “triggers” in place for the imposition of restrictions, a framework of business support if measures return, ongoing capacity in testing and vaccination and the “pandemic-proofing” of schools.
The First Minister said: “We will look seriously at the proposals that Anas Sarwar puts forward as we will look seriously at proposals anyone puts forward – I have said this before, we will consult widely as we develop the updated strategic framework over the coming weeks.
“It’s important we get that right.”