Covid in Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon optimistic major restrictions will end

There are “strong grounds for hope” that Scotland will be able to remove most of its remaining Covid rules next month, the first minister has said.

Nicola Sturgeon said the country was in a much better place now than it was earlier this month, when it had the highest virus rate in Europe.

Ms Sturgeon is due to decide next week whether to remove all of the major level zero rules from 9 August.

She told a government briefing that she was optimistic this would happen.

But she stressed that a “sensible degree of continued caution” would be needed to ensure the progress that has been made in recent weeks is not reversed.

Case numbers in Scotland have more than halved over the past three weeks, with a daily average of 1,523 new cases last week compared to 3,305 in the week up to 2 July.

The average test positivity rate has also fallen from more than 10% at the start of the month to 7% – with the 5.6% recorded on Tuesday the lowest daily figure since the middle of June.

There had been five Scottish council areas among the 10 worst Covid hotspots across the UK at the start of July, but Ms Sturgeon said none are currently listed in the top 150.

And more than four million people have now received their first vaccination dose, with 3.1 million having had both doses. This has been credited with limiting the number of people being hospitalised with the virus.

Ms Sturgeon said the uptake figures for the vaccination programme had been “quite extraordinary” despite concern at the apparent reluctance of some younger people to have the jab.

She added: “We have seen some very positive development recently and that certainly gives me grounds for optimism that we will be able to continue our progress out of restrictions.

“That said, we do still need to be cautious. It’s good that cases are lower than they were three weeks ago – that comes as a relief to all of us – but they are still nine times higher than they were at the start of May and we know that the Delta variant is significantly more infectious.

“So just as a sensible degree of caution up to now has helped us get case numbers back on a downward path, a sensible degree of continued caution in the period ahead will help avoid sending that progress into reverse.”