A “better balance” must be found between fighting COVID-19 and protecting the economy, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said, laying out plans to slowly ease lockdown measures as London remains reluctant to do the same.
Sturgeon said it was time for a “grown-up” conversation about how to restore “some semblance of normality” to life, suggesting that some businesses may be allowed to reopen, provided social distancing guidelines remain in place. She said she was also assessing the possibility of reopening schools with redesigned classrooms to keep students safely spaced apart.
The SNP leader made clear that she was not proposing any dramatic changes yet, that moving too soon could allow infection rates to surge again, and said any changes will be small and incremental to start.
“A return to normal as we knew it is not on the cards in the near future… What we will be seeking to do is find a new normal – a way of living alongside this virus but in a form that keeps it under control,” she said. Sturgeon added that social distancing and limiting contact with others will be “a fact of life” until COVID-19 treatments and vaccines offer new solutions.
Sturgeon’s comments follow remarks by Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster, who said her region could begin to exit lockdown more quickly than the rest of the UK. Foster said that decisions will be made according to certain criteria – including a lowered death rate and infection rates – which may be fulfilled at different times in different places.
Given that many lockdown measures are devolved powers, Sturgeon and Foster would be able to move ahead with easing restrictions without any approval from Westminster.
The comments from the two first ministers will now put pressure on London to lay out its own plan for rolling back the lockdown in England, which has been the worst-affected region in the UK. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said this week that it would be weeks before the cabinet would even “think” about putting forward an exit strategy.
Sturgeon said her plan was just a blueprint which will evolve over the coming weeks as “evidence, data and modelling” allow firmer decisions to be made.