Sturgeon: Virus lockdown to continue for 'at least' three weeks

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The first minister warned against lifting the lockdown measures too soon

Scotland's coronavirus lockdown will continue for "at least another three weeks", Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The first minister took part in a Cobra emergency committee meeting on Thursday which discussed extending restrictions.

She said that while there was "positive" news that lockdown was slowing the spread of the virus, it was not yet time to ease social distancing.

Ms Sturgeon said she would begin to set out the basic principles of an "exit strategy" from the lockdown next week.

But she said her message remained for people to "stay at home", and that "this virus is not going to simply disappear".

Ms Sturgeon's statement echoed one made by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab from Downing Street, where he said any "rush" to relax restrictions "would risk wasting all the sacrifices and all the progress that has been made".

A further 80 deaths of people who have tested positive for the virus have now been reported, bringing the total to 779 under that measure. Wider figures covering all cases where the virus is mentioned on a death certificate are issued every Wednesday.

Ms Sturgeon said 1,799 people were in hospital with the virus, 196 of whom are in intensive care.

She said there were "early indications" that the lockdown "has resulted in a slowing in the rate of community transmission of the virus", something reflected in the numbers being admitted to hospital.

And she said she hoped that this would also in time see the death rate slow, telling people that "the very difficult sacrifices you are making are working".

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Ms Sturgeon set out some of her thinking about an "exit strategy" during a question session with MSPs

Despite this progress, Ms Sturgeon said the lockdown would have to continue for "at least" three more weeks.

She said: "Although we do believe these restrictions are having the desired effect, we're not yet confident that transmission has slowed sufficiently to ease up on them.

"Our advice is clear that if we were to lift any of these restrictions now we would risk an immediate and potentially exponential resurgence of the virus.

"This could result in our NHS being quickly overwhelmed, it could result in even more cases in our care homes, and it would also mean much more loss of life.

"It could also lead to the reintroduction of even more stringent measures, which substantially more damage to the economy as a result.

"I hope you all agree, this is a risk we simply cannot take."

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Ms Sturgeon said testing would be an important part of any "exit strategy"

The first minister also said she would begin to set out the framework for an "exit strategy" from the lockdown in the coming week.

She went into some detail about this in an earlier question session with opposition politicians, saying there was likely to be a key role for a system of testing people, tracing those who have had contact with carriers of the virus and then isolating them.

However, Ms Sturgeon said there would have to be a balance between returning to normality and suppressing the virus, with some restrictions "likely to be in place for a considerable period of time".

She said: "Given we are going to be living with this virus for some time to come, we have to consider what takes the place of the measure we lift.

"That's where testing, tracing and isolating comes to the fore, and I'm clear that has to be a key part of any future strategy to get life back to normal - as much as it's possible to do that."

The Scottish government is expanding its capacity for coronavirus tests, and Ms Sturgeon said it was on track to hit the target of 3,500 tests per day by the end of April.

However, she stressed that these should be used "appropriately", given that the current tests are "only reliable when someone shows symptoms".