FACE coverings will be required to be worn until after winter in Scotland, the Deputy First Minister today suggested.
His comments come as Scotland moves ‘beyond Level 0’ – with most Covid restrictions being dropped across the country.
Legal requirements for physical distancing – except in healthcare settings – and gatherings have been removed and all venues, including nightclubs, are now able to reopen.
However, some measures – including as the legal requirement to wear face coverings indoors in public places and on public transport – will stay in place.
In England, the legal requirement to wear a face covering has ended – however UK Government guidance says it “expects and recommends” the continued wearing in crowded areas such as public transport.
Speaking about the easing of restrictions on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, John Swinney said moving to beyond Level 0 was “the right judgment and the right moment to act”.
He added the use of face coverings would continue to be required at least through the winter, he said, as they are a “significant obstacle to the circulation of the virus”.
Mr Swinney said: “Certainly over the winter I would expect face coverings to remain a significant part of our lives.”
It comes as Nicola Sturgeon refused to rule out any potential return to lockdown restrictions in the future.
The First Minister this morning admitted she had “butterflies in my stomach” over the rule changes.
She said: “I think any politician, anywhere in the world, in the face of a pandemic of an infectious virus that sits here and says ‘I can guarantee something’ is not being sensible and actually it’s not being frank with people.
“Every fibre of my being hopes that the restrictions we are lifting today in Scotland will never, ever have to be imposed, and am I optimistic about that? Yes.
“Can I guarantee it? Well, I could tell you that right now for the sake of an easier interview, but it wouldn’t be the right thing to say because keeping this virus under control depends on all of us continuing to do all of the sensible things I’ve been talking about.
“We also know that this is a virus that has already mutated, new variants continue to be our biggest threat, so we’ve got to be careful and we’ve got to be realistic.
“But I very much hope that all of that, coupled, of course, principally with the power of vaccination, will mean that never again do we have to face lockdowns.”
Under the new rules, double-vaccinated adults and all children will be able to avoid self-isolation if they are a close contact of someone with coronavirus so long as they are symptomless and provide a negative PCR test.
Pupils and teachers will have to continue wearing masks indoors for up to six weeks after schools return, the Government has said.
But whole classes in schools will no longer have to stay at home if an infection is discovered, although children and adults who are higher-risk close contacts will be told to isolate.
Since the announcement, the Scottish Government has changed its position on requiring masks in nightclubs and people will also now be allowed to drink while standing up in pubs.
Outdoors events of more than 5,000 people and indoor events of more than 2,000 will have to apply for permission from local authorities and the Government to go ahead.