Further coronavirus restrictions could be introduced in Scotland if the new rules do not have enough effect, the Deputy First Minister has warned.
John Swinney said there is more economic activity happening now than immediately after the first lockdown began in March last year and “obviously there are further restrictions that could be applied”, though the Scottish Government hopes to avoid doing so.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a tightening of Covid-19 rules on Wednesday, including a ban on drinking alcohol outdoors in public in areas of Scotland under lockdown and further restrictions on takeaways.
Reducing which shops can offer click and collect services, strengthening the law requiring staff to work from home, and closing a loophole in the stay-at-home order are among other changes Ms Sturgeon outlined, all of which will come into effect on Saturday.
In an interview on BBC Breakfast on Thursday, Mr Swinney was asked whether the latest restrictions are the furthest point or if people should be braced for rules to be tightened in other ways if things do not change.
He said: “There is more economic activity happening in Scotland today than was happening immediately after lockdown in March of last year, so there’s quite a number of sectors still able to operate that we haven’t restricted in the way that we did last year.
“There are of course other things that we could do – we’re trying to avoid doing that because we’re trying to navigate our way through this difficult situation while supporting as much economic and social activity as is safe and supportable at any given time.
“Obviously there are further restrictions that could be applied – we don’t want to have to go there, so I would encourage people to follow the restrictions that are in place.
“If we all do those things then we can avoid more stringent restrictions.”
Mr Swinney said there are “some early signs of optimism”, but he urged people to continue following the rules.
He said: “The virus is not accelerating as fast as it was accelerating – we had a massive growth after Boxing Day. For about 10 days after Boxing Day the virus just galloped through Scotland at a rate of increase that really surprised everybody.
“We are not seeing that rate of increase being sustained, so that’s the good news, but the virus is still at a very strong level and at a much higher level than we have habitually had it within Scotland, so we need to get those levels down to avoid the pressure on the National Health Service and the wider circulation of a very dangerous virus.”
He said a range of financial support is available for businesses that are required to close or are disrupted as a consequence of Covid.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme the new measures announced by the First Minister aim to “further restrict the opportunities for this virus to pass from one person to others”.
He said: “At this point in time we’re at a really critical point in the pandemic, we can see that the number of people who have become infected has risen quite considerably, that is putting pressure on our hospital system.
“And of course unfortunately we have seen a rise in the number of deaths in recent days as well.
“These measures are designed to try to reduce the likelihood of further people becoming infected and so preventing that severe disease.”