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Face coverings will remain legal requirement in Scotland as sub-variant drives up case numbers

© Russell Cheyne/PA WireNicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

Laws requiring the wearing of face coverings on public transport and in enclosed public spaces across Scotland will not be scrapped from Monday as planned.

Nicola Sturgeon said that a “spike in case numbers” driven by the BA.2 sub-variant meant that it would be “prudent” to keep the measures in place for at least another two weeks.

Sturgeon said: “I know this will be disappointing for businesses and service providers such as day care services.

“However, ensuring continued widespread use of face coverings will provide some additional protection – particularly for the most vulnerable – at a time when the risk of infection is very high, and it may help us get over this spike more quickly.”

The measures will be reviewed again in two weeks before the Scottish Parliament’s Easter recess, with Sturgeon saying that she expects the regulations to convert to guidance in early April.

Other legal requirements will, however, be dropped as planned from March 21, including certain premises having to retain customer contact details.

The BA.2 variant

The BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron is now the dominant strain of coronavirus in Scotland, according to the First Minister.

Updating MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, she said the sub-variant now accounted for more than 80% of all cases.

She said: “The increase in cases over the past three weeks has been driven by the BA.2 sub-lineage of the Omicron variant, which is estimated to be significantly more transmissible – with a growth rate since mid-February perhaps 80% greater than original Omicron.

“BA.2 is now our dominant strain, accounting for more than 80% of all reported cases.

“BA.2 has become dominant in Scotland earlier than in England and Wales, hence the more rapid increase in cases here than south of the border in recent weeks – although cases and hospital admissions are now rising sharply again in England too.”

Testing

When it comes to testing, the transition period in Scotland will continue until the end of April.

The First Minister said “this is as far as we can go within funding constraints”, taking account of current case numbers.

She said she was aiming for the same “long-term position as England”.

Sturgeon urges Scots to take ‘sensible precautions’ as Covid cases rise

Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament: “For the next month – until Easter – there will be no change to our testing advice.

“If you don’t have symptoms, you should continue for now to use a lateral flow test twice weekly; daily for seven days if you are a close contact of a positive case; and before visiting someone who is vulnerable.

“If you have symptoms, you should continue to get a PCR test, either at a testing site or by post.

“However, following the Easter weekend – from April 18 – we will no longer advise people without symptoms to test twice weekly.”

She said that until the end of April, the Government will continue to advise those with symptoms to get a PCR test.

Ms Sturgeon continued: “From May 1, instead of a population-wide approach, we will use testing on a targeted basis – to support clinical care and treatment and protect higher risk settings; and for surveillance, outbreak management and responding to significant developments, such as a new variant.”

The latest data

Scotland has recorded 25 coronavirus-linked deaths in the past 24 hours, according to latest data.

The figures also show that 38,770 new cases of Covid-19 have been reported since Saturday March 12.

Due to a technical issue, Public Health Scotland (PHS) had not been able to provide the latest data on cases, deaths and vaccinations in the Monday update.

There were 1,996 people in hospital on Monday with recently confirmed Covid-19, up 191 on the previous day, with 33 in intensive care, up six.

So far, 4,441,175 people have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination, 4,171,128 have received their second dose, and 3,468,504 have received a third dose or booster, according to Scottish Government data published on Tuesday.