Published by BBC NEWS - 18th January 2022

concert in glasgow

Image source, Getty Images

Scotland’s Covid-19 restrictions are to be eased, with nightclubs reopening, large indoor events resuming and social distancing rules dropped.

The changes will take effect from Monday 24 January after a “significant fall” in new case numbers.

However people are still being asked to work from home and to take lateral flow tests before meeting with others.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs that Scotland had “turned the corner on the Omicron wave”.

Guidance advising adults against meeting up with more than three households at a time will also be scrapped, along with curbs on indoor contact sports.

And ministers have decided against extending the vaccine passport scheme to more hospitality settings “at this stage”.

Ms Sturgeon said that while Omicron is still infecting “large numbers of people”, there had been a significant fall in the number of new infections over the past two weeks.

A total of 20,268 positive cases have been reported over the past three days, compared to 36,526 over the same three days last week.

The percentage of tests coming back positive has dropped from almost 30% in early January to under 20% now.

It is now thought that the Omicron wave peaked in the first week of January, and the number of people being admitted to hospital with the virus is also falling.

pub eating

Image source, Getty Images

Restrictions introduced over the festive period are being phased out, with limits on crowds at outdoor events such as football matches having been lifted on Monday of this week.

From next Monday, the limits on attendance at indoor public events, the requirement for 1m physical distancing and table service in hospitality venues, and the requirement for nightclubs to close will also be removed.

However longer-running measures such as the use of face coverings on public transport and indoor public places will continue, while Ms Sturgeon said people were advised to continue to keep gatherings “small” to reduce the risk of infection.

People should also continue to work from home wherever possible for now, but Ms Sturgeon said talks would be held with businesses about “a return to a more hybrid approach from the start of February”.

The first minister said that Scotland was “once again entering a calmer phase of the pandemic”, but warned there was still “significant pressure” on health services.

She said: “Although we can be increasingly optimistic at this stage, we must all still play our part in helping further slow the spread of the virus.”

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Analysis box by Lisa Summers, health correspondent, Scotland

Most experts agree that the data is encouraging. The numbers of Covid patients in hospital looks to have peaked and is starting to level out at around 25% lower than the peak last winter, with far fewer people in intensive care.

Better treatments and vaccines have helped, but many health boards remain under severe pressure, focusing only on urgent and emergency care.

Staff absences are at their highest since April 2020 when the NHS was directing almost all of its attention to Covid, and today’s data shows record waits for people to access care in emergency departments.

Medics say there are hopeful signs, but it is still too early to say that the corner has turned.

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The Scottish Conservatives welcomed the changes, with health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane saying there had been a “sea change” in government policy “towards trusting the Scottish public”.

However the party called for the vaccine passport scheme to be scrapped altogether, and for a “credible plan” to tackle waiting times in the NHS.

Ms Sturgeon said the decision on vaccine passports was “finely balanced”, but that if case numbers were to rise again then extending the scheme to all hospitality venues “may well be a more proportionate alternative to other, more restrictive measures”.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the changes would “offer hope to a lot of people who can once again look forward to getting some more normality back in their lives”.

However he said businesses were “teetering on the brink”, and called on the government to go further in getting promised financial support to firms.

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