Dashing hopes of a loosening from the end of this month, the First Minister said she was being ‘cautious’ and more evidence was needed that the outbreak was on a ‘downward trajectory’.
The announcement came amid fears the brutal curbs in England will need to stay in place past March, with
The whole Scottish mainland and several islands have been under tough restrictions since early January, with schools closed a ‘stay at home’ message in force.
Dashing hopes of a loosening from the end of this month, Nicola Sturgeon said she was being ‘cautious’ and more evidence was needed that the outbreak was on a ‘downward trajectory’
It was initially due to run until February, but was reviewed by Ms Sturgeon and her ministers this morning.
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘We need to see these trends continue, to be more certain that this phase of the epidemic is now on a downward trajectory.
‘And second, we need to be realistic that any improvement we are seeing is down, at this stage, to the fact that we are staying at home and reducing our interactions.
‘Any relaxation of lockdown while case numbers, even though they might be declining, nevertheless remain very high, could quickly send the situation into reverse.’
She said: ‘It is for all these reasons that the Cabinet decided this morning to maintain the restrictions which are currently in place.
‘That means that the lockdown restrictions – including the strict stay-at-home requirement – will remain in place across mainland Scotland and some island communities until at least the middle of February.’
Ms Sturgeon did give some grounds for optimism, saying the curbs did seem to be working.
She said: ‘We believe that the lockdown restrictions – and the sacrifices everyone continues to make – are beginning to have an impact.
‘Case numbers – which had been rising rapidly – appear to have stabilised and even declined.
‘In the week to January 14, there was an average of around 1,900 confirmed new cases per day. This is an 18 per cent reduction on the previous week.
‘Test positivity has also declined slightly, as has the number of cases per 100,000 of the population.’
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson gathered his Cabinet this morning to take stock of the crisis in England.
He told ministers that ‘although we are beginning to see a decline in infection rates, the situation remains very serious and it remains as important as ever for people to follow the guidance to continue to suppress the spread of the virus’.
The PM has promised that the lockdown will be reviewed on February 15, after vowing that the 14million most vulnerable Britons will have had their first dose of vaccine by then.
But ministers have made clear that it will be weeks after that before the jabs are fully effective, and health experts have cautioned that pressure on the NHS will still be huge.
The government has set criteria including deaths falling, the NHS being able to cope, the vaccine rollout making progress, and no dangerous new variants for easing lockdown.
Schools have warned they do not expect to return to normal until April.
Mr Johnson has also dismissed Tory calls for a ‘route map’ for lifting the curbs before mid-February, warning that is the earliest any plan will become clear.
The announcement came amid fears the brutal curbs in England will need to stay in place past March, with Boris Johnson saying the situation remains ‘serious’ despite good progress on vaccinations
Ms Sturgeon said the Island of Barra will be placed into lockdown from midnight tonight, after 10 per cent of the island’s population was forced to self-isolate.
She said: ‘For these reasons, the national incident management team has recommended and the Cabinet – in consultation with the local authority and local health board – has decided that Barra and Vatersay, which is connected to Barra by causeway, should move from Level 3 to Level 4 at midnight tonight.
‘This means that the same lockdown restrictions – including the stay at home except for essential purposes requirement already in place on mainland Scotland – will apply there too.’