Coronavirus lockdown measures could last into next year, Sturgeon warns

Nicola Sturgeon has said some coronavirus restrictions could be kept in place for the rest of the year or longer as she warned "a return to normal as we knew it is not on the cards in the near future".

The First Minister was speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing as the Scottish Government published a report pledging an easing of the lockdown measures will be "conducted in a phased and careful manner".

She stressed people will need to "find a way to live with this virus".

Ms Sturgeon said the number of people in Scotland who have died after testing positive for the virus is 1,120, up by 58 from 1,062 on Wednesday.

A total of 9,409 people have now tested positive, up by 371 from 9,038 the day before.

The number of people in intensive care and hospital in Scotland has fallen in the past 24 hours, by seven to 148 and by 28 to 1,776 respectively, which Ms Sturgeon said is a cause for "real optimism".

She said the key objective of the new paper is continuing to suppress the virus and the Scottish Government is "increasingly confident" measures put in place are helping to do this.

The First Minister said: "As we start to lift the restrictions, the real risk is that Covid-19 runs rampant again.

"So a return to normal as we knew it is not on the cards in the near future and it's really important that I am upfront with you about that.

"What we must do is find a new normal, a way of living alongside this virus but in a form that keeps it under control and stops it taking the toll we know it can do."

Ms Sturgeon said the reproduction rate of the virus must be kept below one, with best estimates putting the figures "somewhere between 0.6 and one".

She said lockdown measures are doing "damage" to Scotland, with problems in business, education and living standards, stressing a better "balance" will need to be found.

The paper is a "first cut", she said, designed to start an "adult conversation".

Ms Sturgeon added the "science will never be exact" and the Scottish Government will have to make judgments on any measures to be added or lifted.

The report makes clear "living with the virus will mean continued uncertainty and changes to how we live our lives".

It adds: "The key consideration around easing restrictions is how to do so safely.

"Even as we lift some of the more restrictive measures, we are likely to require continued adherence to the advice on staying at home if symptomatic and to the advice on physical distancing."

It is "likely" restrictions on gathering in groups, which have shut down pubs and led to public events across the country being cancelled, will need to continue "for some time to come", the report warns.

Good hand and cough hygiene "must become fundamental habits", it states, adding "each one of us will have to adapt to this as the new normal, at least until we are sure that we can be more protected by a vaccine or treatment".

The report states: "Our assessment is that now is not the right time to relax restrictions."

It adds: "If, after easing any restrictions, the evidence tells us we are unable to contain the transmission of the virus then we will have to reimpose them, possibly returning to lockdown with little notice.

"While we will do our best to avoid this, it is possible that such a cycle may happen more than once until we reach a point when we have in place an effective vaccine."

The report goes into more detailing, stating: "Over the next few weeks, based on the evidence and expert advice, a number of options will be considered – not all of which may be selected.

"These are likely to include the easing of restrictions in a phased manner, opening up different parts of the economy sector by sector, considering different restrictions in different areas dependent on how the pandemic is progressing and considering options for different groups of the population – as is currently the case with those shielded for clinical reasons.

"It may be that restrictions on some outdoor activity are eased before those on indoor activities – however, all of this will be evidence-led."

It adds: "Easing restrictions will not mean returning to how things were before the virus.

"Physical distancing, hand hygiene, and other critical behaviours will be essential in each sector."

Here the Scottish Government pledged to work with experts in different sectors "to understand the practical consequences, for example, of what physical distancing would mean for schools and education, transport, business and recreation".