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Initial Phase 3

With National Records of Scotland having thus far reported approximately 4,200 coronavirus linked deaths (76% of casualties being aged over 75 years, and 6% being younger than 45 years, of which none were under 15 years), and with the daily average fatality rate now fallen below two, Scotland moved into Phase 3 on 10th July. This comprises several staged relaxations, all being subject to compliance with specific guidance:


From 10th July, and whilst  acknowledging that 'the evidence of impact on transmission is relatively weak', the mandatory requirement to use a face covering on public transport is extended to shops. A government publication of 6th July specifically stated that a medical grade mask was not necessary - either a textile covering such as a scarf or buff through which you can breathe, or a face visor would suffice, provided that both nose and mouth were covered. [Fast forwarding to 24th August, the ‘advice and guidance’ from the same government website now regards increased use of face coverings by the public as ‘expected’, and also specifically excludes a face visor from being considered as a face covering.]


In general the two metre social distancing rule remains, although for children under the age of 12 the existing exemption from social distancing while outdoors has been extended to also apply indoors. Under 18s are already permitted to engage outdoors with an unlimited daily number of groups, and this is further relaxed to include indoor meetings as well.


For non-shielding adults, a maximum of three different households (nominally 8 persons) can now meet at a time indoors - and can stay overnight as long as there is physical distancing between different households. Outdoors, households are permitted to meet up with four other households at a time (nominally 15 persons), whilst observing social distancing. Adults are advised not to meet people from any more than four different households in one day. People who are shielding no longer have to distance themselves from others living in the same house.


The two metre physical distancing rule is to be eased to one metre for some premises where mitigations such as, for instance, plastic screens are employed and contact details are collected. Public transport and the retail sector see the two metre obligation relaxed to one metre.


From 13th July young people (under 18) can play organised outdoor contact sports. Non-essential shops in indoor shopping centres will be permitted to open. Dental practices may resume non-aerosol routine care. Face-to-face youth work can resume outdoors.


From 15th July hospitality businesses such as pubs and cafes may allow customers back indoors, employing one-metre social distancing between tables, and relevant mitigations. Hairdressers may reopen as long as hygiene measures are in place. Early learning and childcare services is to resume, and tourism and all holiday accommodation can reopen. This includes museums, galleries, libraries, cinemas and similar indoor locations, but excludes live event venues, such as theatres and nightclubs. Places of worship can re-open with limited numbers. There will be some easing of restrictions on attendance at funerals and marriages. [Choirs and other live musical performances remain banned on the basis of some tentative evidence that the virus spreads faster among people whose breathing is altered indoors].


From 22nd July personal retail services such as beauticians and tailors can re-open. There will be a phased return to on-campus learning at universities and colleges.


From 1st August shielding will be paused, allowing that category to merge with the general population.


From 3rd August certain restrictions on essential support groups will be relaxed, and routine eye care services can be provided within community optometry practices and in patients’ own homes.


From 11th August schools will reopen (full time).


From 17th August dentists will be able to offer urgent treatment involving aerosols.


From 24th August driving lessons may resume, and bingo halls, amusement arcades, casinos, funfairs, and snooker halls & bowling alleys may reopen. In theory organised outdoor contact sports should be available to all [clubs must have a Covid Officer and follow guidance from governing sports body, in return for which participants can (totally at odds with all other government guidelines) take advantage of a temporary ‘field bubble’]. Some outdoor live events such as concerts and comedy for under 200 people either seated or taking place in open spaces may be permitted if guidance is followed. Face-to-face advice services and child contact centres can resume


From 31st August gyms & swimming pools can reopen. Indoor sports courts incl. skating & dance studios can reopen: Under 12s can resume all activity but for others non-contact activity only. Indoor activities for children and indoor youth work can resume.


Localised Aberdeen Spike


Following an increase in COVID-19 cases within Aberdeen City, localised restrictions on hospitality businesses were put in place on 5 August and citizens were advised to refrain from indoor gatherings with other households. The Scottish government’s website asked people in Aberdeen City not to travel more than 5 miles for leisure, recreation or non-essential purchases.


On 24th August the localised lockdown was relaxed, with hospitality businesses permitted to reopen from 26th.


National Setback


On 11th September against a background of rising positive tests (schools and further education having been re-activated  and business activity expanded) the Scottish government indicated that it would follow England's lead in reducing the permissible size of gatherings to a maximum of six people from two households - either indoors or outdoors (legally enforceable from 14th September). [See 10th July for prior gathering limitations.]


Further alarm within government circles at the continuing rise in the absolute number of positive tests resulted in the Scotland-wide imposition on 28th Sept of a ban on visiting other households (tradespeople exempted). Students were particularly targeted for draconian treatment by being ordered not to visit pubs (open for everyone else) on pain of expulsion. During the preceding two weeks the NRS weekly fatality data had quadrupled from around 5 (since mid-July) to around 20.


By the end of October however the weekly fatality rate had ramped up to 200, and on 2nd November, just a few days ahead of England's "circuit breaker" lockdown, the Scottish government allocated each of its 32 local authorities into one of 5 tiers (level 0 thru' 4) depending upon the prevalence of Covid-19.


Tiered System


Schools supposedly stay open at all levels (but of course the government proved quick to renage on this promise which affects a disenfranchised segment of society). Initially the regions closest to and including the central belt were in tier 3 with adjacent regions in tier 2, and further afield regions in tier 1. Broad brush changes which would result from a progression through the tiers are presented below:


Level 0 would permit 8 people gathering from 3 households indoors, or 15 people from 5 households outdoors. Shops, close contact services, libraries and museums open. Normal licensing times apply to hospitality. Max of 50 attendees at weddings, funerals, churches. Leisure & recreation open except adult entertainment and nightclubs. Outdoor events permitted with restricted attendance at stadia. Accommodation facilities open.


Level 1 will permit (in due course) 6 people gathering from 2 households indoors. This is already permissible outdoors or in hospitality settings (which have 22:30 curfew applied). Max of 20 attendees at weddings and funerals.


Level 2 does not permit gatherings inside people's homes, and outdoors is as per level 1 (excepting that indoor consumption of alcohol is only permitted before 20:00 (and must accompany a meal). Many mobile close contact services must close. Stadiums closed to spectators (except drive-in events). Leisure and entertainment venues closed except for cinemas and amusement arcades.


Level 3 socialising is as per level 2, but with 18:00 curfew for pubs and restaurants, and alcohol sales not permitted. All leisure and entertainment venues are closed and Stadia will host no events. Non-essential travel in or out of the area advised against and hence accommodation facilities not avaiilable for external tourism.


Level 4 socialising is as per level 2, but overall is closer to full lockdown. Hospitality is closed down and accommodation facilities available for work related purposes only. Non-essential travel in or out of the area not permitted and limited travel distances may be applied. Non essential shops and all close contact services (including mobile) must close. Public buildings closed. Max of 5 attendees at weddings and 20 in churches. Only essential indoor workplaces to remain open, along with outdoor workplaces in sectors such as construction and engineering.


The Story Continues


Although the moving average number of daily positive tests for Covid-19 peaked at 1330 around 25th October, the weekly confirmed Covid fatalities continued rising until a mid-November PHS peak of 240 (versus the peak of 380 during April). By the end of November these figures had fallen to 800/day and 200/week respectively. However, thie decline was short lived and from 18th December both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire were elevated from their initial Level 2 status into Level 3, placing additional restrictions on the movement of people.


Then, with the confirmed arrival in the UK of a more transmissible strain of Covid-19, the national governments curtailed their planned christmas relaxations in favour of tighter lockdowns commencing on 26th December (from which date all of mainland Scotland became subject to Level 4 restrictions).


For Level 3 or Level 4 regions one of the few permissible reasons to travel outwith your local authority boundary is for outdoor informal exercise such as walking, cycling, golf, or running. It has already been recognised that maintaining such activities can be vital to physical and mental well-being, and currently they may be performed in groups of up to 6 people, plus any children under 12, from no more than 2 households. The informal activity should start and finish from the same place which may be up to 5 miles outside of the boundary of your local authority area (see https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/), of which the 16th bullet point is relevant.]


In the first week of 2021 there was a massive spike in positive Covid tests (circa 2,300 moving average, with test positivity being 15%, and the new variant accounting for almost half of cases). An alarmed Scottish Government decreed that commencing 5th January 2021 all Level 4 areas were to be placed into a new 'temporary' Lockdown for the remainder of the month. No more than two people from two households would be allowed to meet outdoors (under 12s are not included in this limit), and Schools would remain physically closed from the start of term.


The definition of "essential retail" was narrowed, forcing homeware shops and garden centres to close, as well as preventing ski centres from opening. Indoor visitor attractions and all leisure and entertainment premises, plus public buildings such as libraries to remain closed. "Close contact" services not permitted. Only essential shops may remain open, although click and collect, online services, and take-aways may continue to operate. Colleges and universities will have a staggered return, but can operate using a restricted mix of face-to-face and distance learning. There is no limit on how many times people can go out to exercise, although they should do so close to home and avoid crowded areas.


The government decreed that from 15th Feb travellers entering Scotland from any foreign country were to fork out £1750 for a mandatory 10 day managed quarantine at a designated hotel, rather than simply self-isolating at home. Since England only pursues this policy for certain ‘red listed‘ countries, savvy returners made sure to disembark on English soil before returning home.


The UK Covid vaccination rollout commenced on 8th December 2020 with the availability of Pfizer/BioNTech (approved 2nd Dec). Oxford/Astra Zeneca became available from 4th January (approved 30th Dec), and this was followed by Moderna from 7th April (approved 8th Jan). The 420 peak in weekly confirmed Covid fatalities arrived about 3 weeks after the spike in positive Covid tests, and heralded the beginning of a dramatic reduction, such that by the end of February, with 1.6 million having received at least their first jab, it had fallen by 75%. By the end of March with 2.4 million having received at least their first jab, weekly confirmed Covid fatalities were about 40.


Re-opening of classrooms was initially scheduled for 18th Jan, but was deferred to 1st Feb, then to 22nd Feb (when it was made available for P1-3 only). P4-7 returned to the classroom on 15th March, from which date a phased return of secondary schools commenced (with pupils wearing masks and distancing). Regrettably however the continuing incompetence of politicians and the Education Dept has resulted in a second year of cancelled Nat 5 and Highers examinations.


On Friday 12th March the two household rule was loosened to permit up to 4 persons to meet for informal exercise instead of 2 (for 12-17 age group they can all be from different households). Those meetings within the local authority boundary can be for recreational or social purposes rather than just exercise. Also within the local authority boundary adults in groups of up to 15 are now permitted to take part in outdoor non-contact sport and organised group exercise.


On Friday 26th March (in time for Easter) the resumption of communal worship was permitted, with an increase in the attendance limit from 20 to 50 (providing social distancing is possible).


On 5 April the prohibition of in-home socialising continues, but some level 4 restrictions are eased, including: outdoor contact sport for 12-17 year olds resumes, return of 'in person teaching' for some college students, reopening of non-essential ‘click and collect’ retail, and extending the list of permitted retail (ie garden centres, homeware shops, electrical repair shops, hairdresser appointments).


On 16th April the 'stay local' rule was lifted. Travel was henceforth permitted within all of mainland Scotland (provided you spent the night back at your own home), and outdoor socialising extended to permit up to 6 adults to gather.


On 19th April the phased return to classrooms was completed (face coverings are mandatory, although the 2m physical distancing rule is oftimes relaxed).

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