The easing on Monday of the final restrictions put in place in Scotland in response to the Omicron variant marks a “very significant moment of progress” in tackling the virus, John Swinney has said.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced last week that nightclubs would be able to reopen, while the caps on indoor events, table service requirements for venues selling alcohol and social distancing have also been removed.
The measures were put in place in December – along with a maximum capacity in outdoor events of 500, which was eased last Monday – as the new variant caused a spike in cases, eventually peaking at more than 20,000 in the first days of 2022.
However, infections started to dip faster than expected, never reaching the worst case scenario the Scottish Government envisaged as possible – with projections suggesting 50,000 people could be infected daily with the new variant at the peak of the wave.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said it was too early to say it was “the beginning of the end” in terms of restrictions but that Monday’s easing marked progress.
He told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “I think it’s too early to say it’s the beginning of the end, because I think anybody listening to the international commentary on the progress of Covid around the world would indicate that there are significant challenges that remain in the handling of Covid, particularly about the possibility of new variants.
“But I think today marks a very significant moment of progress in Scotland in tackling Covid and enabling people to live lives a bit more closely to what we would normally expect to be the case.”
The requirements for face coverings and self-isolation will remain for the foreseeable future.
Mr Swinney, who is also the Covid Recovery Secretary, said the Scottish Government has tried to take a “proportionate approach” to enable people to be able to get on with as much of their lives as close to normal as possible while applying “necessary caution” to protect them from the spread of the virus.
He said: “I think the baseline measures that we have asked people to continue to follow around the wearing of face coverings, about trying to limit their social contact where it’s possible and to work from home where they can are sensible measures to try to ensure that we maintain protection against any possible resurgence of the virus.”
Announcing the end of the restrictions last Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon said: “Although significant pressures and uncertainties do remain, the data nevertheless gives us confidence that we have turned the corner on the Omicron wave.”
She told MSPs: “A combination of booster vaccinations, the willingness of the public to adapt their behaviour to help stem transmission, and the temporary protective measures introduced in December, has helped blunt the impact of the Omicron wave.”
Changes to #coronavirus restrictions from 24 January:
🔹 End to 1m distancing and table service in hospitality🔹 Nightclubs in Scotland can re-open 🔹 Non-professional indoor contact sports can resume🔹 No attendance limits at indoor events
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) January 18, 2022
The First Minister also said there would be no extension to the vaccine passport scheme despite consideration by her cabinet.
Tory leader Douglas Ross said on Thursday the First Minister had been “too gung-ho” in bringing in new restrictions when the new strain was detected.
But speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Morning show, Ms Sturgeon defended the use of restrictions, saying they were “worth it” and that Scotland is now hopefully “very firmly on the downward slope of that Omicron wave”.
She said: “If you look at what we were predicting through our modelling would be the case in January before Christmas… it was around 50,000 infections a day and we didn’t see that materialise or anything like that materialise.”
Ms Sturgeon said this was a combination of the acceleration of the booster campaign, the protective measures introduced before Christmas and the “responsible response” of the public.