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Scots warned not to expect much lockdown easing next week as ministers focus on schools return

School children during a class at a primary school.

Scots have been told not to expect any significant easing of restrictions at next week’s lockdown review, as the Scottish Government focuses on the reopening of schools and the shielding group.

Nicola Sturgeon said her top priorities were for children to return to the classroom on a full-time basis next month and for extra restrictions on the country’s most vulnerable to be lifted, and both will require levels of the virus to “remain very low”.

Scotland has been in phase three of a four-part “route map” out of lockdown for two weeks but Ms Sturgeon warned the public not to expect a move to the final phase when the arrangements are reviewed next Thursday.

The country spent three weeks in phase two of the plan but the first minister said this current phase is “likely to last considerably longer than that”.

Speaking at the coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon confirmed a final decision on lifting restrictions will not be made until next week but an update on the shielding group is expected on Thursday.

She said: “We cannot leave restrictions in place for longer than we judge to be necessary but I did want to flag up now that it is possible we may not be able to make any changes next week beyond confirming the return of schooling and a pause in shielding.

“And so for those businesses who are still waiting for a date to restart, I want to thank you for your ongoing patience.

“I fully understand how difficult any further delay is for you. I also hope you understand why we need to act safely and cautiously and prioritise the reopening of schools.”

Deaths across Scotland have now dropped to pre-Covid-19 levels for the first time since late March.

Ms Sturgeon said changes were being made “at a pace and at a level we think is right and safe for our current circumstances here in Scotland” and with infection rates rising elsewhere, her officials “need to be confident it is safe to change restrictions further”.

The final phase of lockdown is expected to see a relaxation of the rules around social and public gatherings, public transport and a resumption of mass gatherings.

A number of sectors are also still awaiting a reopening date as part of phase three, including indoor gyms, theatres, non-essential offices and call centres, and bingo halls – all of which have been told they will not open before July 31.

The first minister’s warning came as the number of deaths from Covid-19 fell to the lowest level in Scotland since the outbreak began.

Lab technician moves a case of test tubes while conducting research on Covid-19.

Figures from the National Records of Scotland showed just six deaths linked to the virus occurred between July 13 and July 19, down seven from 13 the previous week.

It is the lowest weekly toll since coronavirus deaths in Scotland began in March and the 12th week in a row that the number of deaths has fallen. At the peak of the outbreak in April, more than 600 deaths were being logged each week with links to Covid-19.

Ms Sturgeon said the figures showed the virus was being “driven down to very low levels” in Scotland but she stressed they are also a reminder of the 4,193 “unique and irreplaceable” individuals who had now died from the disease.

The first minister said just 0.3% of coronavirus tests were coming back with positive results, well below the 5% threshold at which the World Health Organisation considers outbreaks to be “under control”.

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