Douglas Ross has said Scotland should take a faster route out of lockdown, saying all public health data was pointing towards a quicker reopening.
The Scottish Conservative leader wants to see restrictions currently planned to end on May 17, lifted on 26 April instead.
These include indoor openings of pubs and restaurants with a 10.30pm closing time, cinemas subject to capacity restraints and blended learning for universities and colleges.
Mr Ross pointed to the progress of the vaccine programme, with more than 2.5 million Scots receiving their first dose, and falling numbers of people in hospital.
Speaking on Tuesday, he said the Scottish Conservatives still advocated a “cautious approach” which took account of international examples.
He said Scotland’s seven-day test positivity level, currently at 2.5%, was “well below” the WHO’s threshold of 5% for keeping the epidemic under control.
Mr Ross said: “You just have to look at those in hospital at the start of March compared to the start of April.
“On March 1 it was over 800 at the beginning of April it was just over 200.
“So all the public health evidence here in Scotland is encouraging and I believe allows us to cautiously start to reopen Scotland quicker than has previously been outlined.”
He said delaying the reopening of society would lead to greater damage to health and wellbeing.
Mr Ross added: “The SNP Government should not keep Scotland under restrictions any longer than we need to because every day that the Government delays, the impact grows on mental health, physical health and family finances.
“We are facing a looming jobs crisis that will be far worse if the Government holds back on a return to normality.
“This is the time to back businesses and work with them to start rebuilding Scotland now.”
Public Health Minister, Mairi Gougeon, who is running for re-election in Angus North & Mearns with the SNP, responded to Mr Ross’s suggestion.
She said: “Scotland needs serious leadership to take us through and out of this pandemic and that means being willing to take the difficult decisions, including not rushing to lift restrictions, before we know that it is safe to do so.
“The First Minister will continue to do as she has done throughout the pandemic and consider all information and evidence carefully.
“If it is possible to lift restrictions earlier, we have always said we will do so, however, it is down to the actions of the people of Scotland that we have been able to suppress the virus thus far and we cannot sacrifice their efforts by taking unnecessary risks.”
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