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Scots must obey the remaining lockdown restrictions over the long Easter weekend, the Government’s leading medics have urged, as the ‘stay at home’ message is replaced on Friday with an instruction to remain within council areas.
Officials figures unveiled on Thursday showed that the proportion of Covid tests that came back positive has fallen to its lowest level in more than six months, following the latest lockdown and success of the vaccine rollout.
It comes as Nicola Sturgeon pledged that a public inquiry into her Government’s handling of the pandemic will be a priority if she is re-elected as First Minister in May’s election, telling Channel 4 News that it should get underway before the end of 2021.
Dr Gregor Smith, Scotland’s chief medical officer, has also confirmed that the new Moderna vaccine could arrive as early as next week, becoming the third Covid vaccine to be used in Scotland alongside the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca jabs.
Because the jab needs to be kept at low temperatures it will only be available at large vaccination centres in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and needs to be given in two doses several weeks apart.
The UK has ordered 17m doses of the vaccine, with Scotland set to receive a proportion of that number.
But while the jab is an “additional arm” of the vaccination programme, Dr Smith still warned there was a "real risk" that progress would be undone if people were tempted to flout the remaining rules by good weather forecast for the four-day weekend and end of the ‘stay at home’ order.
"We can see by looking at Europe and other parts of the world how fragile our own position is,” he told journalists at a Covid briefing on Thursday.
"It remains imperative that we abide by the rules, we stay local and we look after each other."
Asked about the rising cases in France - which have prompted a new lockdown - he said the situation there is "precarious".
"There's no room for complacency at all, you only have to look at the examples of a number of different continental European countries now to see things can turn very, very quickly,” he warned.
Amid concerns that a squeeze in supply could slow down the vaccine rollout and the easing of restrictions, Prof Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, said there are “no plans to adjust the rollout”.
He said the Government is “still intending” to meet the targets of all over 50s being offered a jab by mid-April and all adult Scots by the end of July, adding: “Nothing I’ve seen in any of the modelling suggests that’s not possible with these vaccines.”
It was also confirmed earlier in the week that hairdressers and barbers will be allowed to re-open from Monday for pre-booked appointments, alongside greater freedoms for non-essential retail.
However, Scotland’s beleaguered hospitality sector is set to remain closed until at least April 26, when indoor venues will be allowed to open until 8pm without alcohol, and outdoor venues until 10pm with alcohol.
Businesses will have to wait until at least May 17 to be able to sell alcohol to customers indoors, with the Scottish Beer and Pub Association (SBPA) warning that the loss of beer sales over the Easter weekend alone will result in the sector missing out on £31m in trade.
Emma McClarkin, SBPA chief executive, said the closures are a “major disappointment” for the industry and it is “imperative” that the Scottish Government’s roadmap of reopening does not get delayed.
Meanwhile, the country's nightlife industry has issued a plea for the Scottish Government to set out a clear path for reopening, warning that "enough is enough".
The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) Scotland Commission, which represents the businesses, employees, freelancers and supply chains that make up the night-time economy across Scotland, has sent an open letter to ministers asking for more support and a roadmap out of lockdown.
The association warns that without urgent action, the sector faces "Armageddon", and added: "The Scottish Government is condemning thousands of businesses in our sector, most of them SMEs carefully nurtured over years, to bankruptcy with all the human, economic, cultural and social consequences that entails."
Scotland’s island destination organisations have also condemned the Government’s lack of clarity over its plans for re-opening the tourism sector.
The businesses claim they have been “left battling for survival” after being “excluded” from Nicola Sturgeon’s plans for easing lockdown at the end of April, which has yet to confirm specific dates for the islands and has triggered “a wave of cancellations” from visitors now “reluctantly” opting for a holiday on the mainland.
Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said: “If businesses in our islands can’t follow the same approach as the mainland, the impact will be more severe than may be understood currently.
“Businesses will lose trade to mainland businesses, people will choose to visit other destinations leading quickly to business failure, significant unemployment and an economic and social crisis within our island communities.”