Coronavirus lockdown measures could have to return multiple times with “little notice”, a key document warns.
Today’s paper by the Scottish government is the first indication of what an “exit strategy” might look like – and it makes clear normal life will not return any time soon.
It says schools, outdoor activities and some businesses could resume as long as people stay two metres apart.
But gatherings at pubs or “public events” could have to remain banned – and stricter measures could have to return if Covid-19 begins to run rampant again.
The document adds: “If, after easing any restrictions, the evidence tells us we are unable to contain the transmission of the virus then we will have to re-impose them, possibly returning to lockdown with little notice.
“While we will do our best to avoid this, it is possible that such a cycle may happen more than once until we reach a point when we have in place an effective vaccine.”
While the paper was produced by the Scottish government, it gives an insight into the sort of approaches that might eventually be taken across the whole of the UK.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sits in COBRA meetings with the UK government, and the four home nations have broadly taken the same approach to the lockdown.
The UK government has refused to comment on its own exit plan, saying people must focus on the message of staying home to protect the NHS.
But Downing Street today appeared to voice a similar approach to the possibility of multiple lockdowns to the Scottish government.
The PM’s spokesman said the most important factor is that “R”, the number of people each carrier infects, is below one.
“We cannot allow the R to go above one for any extended period at any point,” he said.
No10 also did not contradict England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, who last night said some restrictions will need to last until 2021.
Boris Johnson’s said the government must do “everything we can” to keep the infection rate down.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman insisted the UK government was treating the public like grown-ups, despite not spelling out an exit plan.
Asked if the UK government agreed with Ms Sturgeon it was incumbent on all governments to involve the public, the spokesman said: “Yes, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”
He added: “We’ve been very up front about the challenges we’ve faced in making sure the NHS is not overwhelmed.”
It came after the Scottish government published a document called “COVID-19 – A Framework for Decision Making”.
Ms Sturgeon said the paper was “the start of a process” and she promised to share her government’s thinking on an ongoing basis.
She described the document as a “first cut”, designed to start an “adult conversation”.
She added: “The decisions that lie ahead of all of us are really complex.
“We will, as we have done all along, seek to inform those decisions with the best scientific advice possible.
“But the science will never be exact so we are also required to make very careful judgements.”