Coronavirus: Social ‘bubbles’ could become early part of Scotland’s lockdown easing, Sturgeon says

‘We are considering if and how we could make changes to allow people to meet with a small number of others,’ Scottish government document says

Nicola Sturgeon has said the Scottish government is considering how to ease lockdown measures, exploring options such as “bubble” arrangements where people can meet with others outside their own households in small groups.

Unveiling a document on relaxing restrictions, the Scottish first minister said she was looking at loosening the rules on the public leaving their homes, including allowing exercise to happen more than once a day.

Ms Sturgeon suggested there could be an change in the rules to allow “meeting up with a small defined group” of other people – outdoors at first – in a “sort of bubble arrangement”.

Her remarks come as Boris Johnson prepares to set out a roadmap for easing UK-wide restrictions in an address to the public on Sunday evening.

The 27-page guide to how the easing of Scotland’s lockdown could occur stresses that no “specific changes” have been decided on and the government cannot put dates on any of the changes for the time being.

Speaking at the Scottish government’s daily briefing in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon also reiterated it is “highly unlikely” any significant alterations to the coronavirus restrictions will made on Thursday – the deadline to decide whether to extend the lockdown.

But the potential initial changes detailed in the paper make clear the Scottish government is exploring how to make changes to people leaving their home “more often and/or for longer”, but still remaining in the local area.

On changes to advice on visiting other households, it adds: “We are considering if and how we could make changes to allow people to meet with a small number of others (that number is under consideration) outside their own household in a group or “bubble” that acts as a single, self-contained unit, without connections to other households or “bubbles”.

“It is possible that this option would be introduced first for outdoor meetings, ahead of any change to permit indoor meetings of the bubble.”

The changes, however, would not apply to people currently considered to be in the “shielded group”, who remain at the highest risk from Covid-19.

“We recognise that this will become increasingly challenging as advice changes for other people,” it adds. “We are committed to an honest conversation with our citizens who are shielding and with their families about the support they need.”

On businesses, the document says the government’s initial focus will likely be on the safe resumption of construction, manufacturing and retail, where work cannot be done remotely.

It adds: “To be clear, restrictions are likely to remain in place for some business activity for some time to come, especially where safe working is harder to achieve. Changes already adopted in many sectors, for example working from home and the use of digital technology, are likely to persist as part of the ‘new normal’.”

Asked whether the UK government is planning a similar document to Ms Sturgeon’s on the relaxation of lockdown, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “I haven’t seen what Nicola Sturgeon has said, but we are looking at a range of possible easements to social distancing measures.

“We are also looking at if in some areas they need to be toughened,” they added. “Once we have the scientific evidence and have completed the review process we will be able to set out what those are.”

During the press conference on Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon also warned that the NHS could be overwhelmed if schools are reopened this month, claiming that in the worst-case scenario, more than 30,000 people would require hospital treatment.

She added that lifting the lockdown will not be like “flipping a switch” but instead be a gradual process.

Ms Sturgeon added: ”The hard fact is we must see further restrictions in new cases, hospital and ICU admissions and deaths to be sure the overall level of infection and the R number [the reproductive value of the virus] are lower than they are now. That means for the moment we do need to stick with the current lockdown restrictions.”

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