Nicola Sturgeon has insisted Scottish garden centres, libraries and recycling centres must stay closed to save lives, despite moves to open them elsewhere in the UK.
The first minister said Scotland would not follow the example of Wales and reopen the facilities, despite warnings from the horticultural trade that the continued closure of garden centres would be devastating.
Ms Sturgeon did, however, confirm that measures restricting outdoor exercise to an hour a day are to be relaxed north of the border shortly.
At her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon said there had been a “helpful recognition” from Boris Johnson that the UK’s four nations may move at “different speeds” when it comes to exiting the lockdown.
The first minister also revealed that 1,811 patients have now died in Scotland after testing positive for coronavirus, up by 49 from 1,762 the day before.
Ms Sturgeon’s briefing came after Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford announced that from Monday people in the principality will be allowed to take outdoor exercise more than once a day.
Mr Johnson is expected to outline modest easing of anti-coronavirus restrictions south of the border on Sunday. The UK Government has yet to confirm any precise details on what that might mean for places like garden centres.
But Ms Sturgeon made it clear that there were no immediate plans for any such moves north of the border.
Nicola Sturgeon said relaxing restrictions on outdoor exercise was the “only thing we are looking at in the immediate term”.
Experts and officials were currently assessing the advice and the possibility of allowing people to go outdoors for exercise more than once a day, which is the current guidance.
“Basically, the starting point is that what you are allowed to do once a day you will be allowed to do more than once,” she said.
If you are not being allowed to do something in Scotland that you are allowed to do in other parts of the UK – or vice versa – it is because we judge here it is still necessary to save your lives.”
Ms Sturgeon promised to update the public on exercise guidance over the weekend. Questioned about her refusal to go further, she said keeping garden centres closed for the time being would help save lives.
“If you are not being allowed to do something in Scotland that you are allowed to do in other parts of the UK – or vice versa – it is because we judge here it is still necessary to save your lives… that (is why) we are asking you for a little bit longer not, for example, to go to garden centres,” the first minister said.
Gordon Henderson of the Foxlane Garden Centre in Westhill, Aberdeenshire, warned the industry could be “devastated” if the restrictions are kept in place. He said bills were coming in at a time when he would normally start selling bedding plants in a week or so.
“If this goes on any longer than mid-May, it could be devastating for the horticultural trade up here,” Mr Henderson warned.
“We were hearing rumours that garden centres were going to reopen on Monday. This whole thing, right from the start, has been an emotional roller-coaster. I can hardly blame Nicola for what she’s doing – lives are at stake here and that comes first. But there are livelihoods as well.”
Appearing at the same briefing, Scotland’s most senior police officer, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, admitted that different regulations across the UK would make policing “more challenging”.
But he said he was “very confident” that Police Scotland would be able to cope.
The inspiration of the wartime generation
Ms Sturgeon also used the briefing to pay tribute to the wartime generation on the 75th anniversary of VE Day, saying that during the current crisis Scots could take inspiration from their sacrifice for the greater good.
“The challenge they made then is very different to the one we face today – we are not fighting a war,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“But we should nonetheless draw strength and inspiration from their example.”
The First Minister said people living through the Second World War showed the “necessity and value of personal sacrifice”, “demonstrated the resilience of the human spirit” and “our ability to overcome adversity”.
Ms Sturgeon concluded by saying: “Our challenge may be different but just as they did then, we will overcome it.”
In addition to the death toll of 1,811, Ms Sturgeon reported that 13,149 people have now tested positive for the virus in Scotland, up by 225 from 12,924 the day before.
There are 84 people in intensive care with coronavirus or coronavirus symptoms, a decrease of two on Thursday, she added.
There are 1,584 people in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, a decrease of three.
Since March 5, 3,016 people who have tested positive for coronavirus have been able to leave hospital.