Nicola Sturgeon is to confirm whether Scotland’s last remaining Covid regulations – over the wearing of face coverings – will be lifted next week.

The first minister will update MSPs on whether the requirement to wear masks in shops and on public transport will end as planned on 4 April.

All of Scotland’s other Covid-19 rules have now been converted into guidance.

But ministers decided to keep the rule on face coverings for an extra few weeks due to a spike in new cases.

Ms Sturgeon described this as a “temporary, precautionary” move, and said the expectation was that it would only last until early April.

The opposition Conservatives have urged the government to “trust the public” and bring legal requirements to an end.

Transmission of the virus recently hit record levels in Scotland, with one in 11 Scots estimated to have the virus in the week ending 20 March.

The number of people in hospital with the virus has also hit record highs, with 2,383 being treated for a recently confirmed case of Covid-19 on Monday.

However, the country’s remaining restrictions have continued to be phased out, with ministers pointing to the low number of people in intensive care – currently sitting at 20 – as evidence that vaccines are helping prevent severe illness.

‘Additional protection’

On 21 March, the requirement for businesses to collect customer contact details and follow government guidelines was scrapped, with firms and services instead urged to take “reasonably practical measures” to reduce the spread of the virus.

The mandatory wearing of face coverings in enclosed public places was also to be converted to guidance at this stage, but Ms Sturgeon said it was prudent to keep it in place for “a further short period”.

She said this would “provide some additional protection – particularly for the most vulnerable – at a time when the risk of infection is very high”.

Nicola Sturgeon described the decision to extend mask rules as a “temporary” one

Ms Sturgeon’s cabinet discussed the latest data on Tuesday, but no announcement was made in parliament with Ms Sturgeon attending the Duke of Edinburgh’s memorial service in London.

A decision is expected this week, with Holyrood due to be in recess for the first two weeks of April.

Consideration is also being given to reviewing Covid-related restrictions in hospitals, such as isolation and distancing requirements, in order to increase capacity.

There had been calls for changes to help ease pressure on services, with waiting times at accident and emergency rooms hitting a record high on Tuesday.

On Monday, Ms Sturgeon said “these things are being looked at very actively”.

She said: “We have all along got a balance to strike – and its not always an easy balance – between controlling the virus and minimising the harm that is caused by the measures to control the virus, and that has been a recurring theme throughout the pandemic.

“In broader society we have taken away all of the legal measures with the exception of the continued requirement to wear face coverings, and in the health and care sector we want to continue to protect patients and staff from the risks of transmission, but we do recognise that that results in reduced capacity in our hospitals.”

Staff at hospitals across Scotland are facing capacity issues

Covid rules are being phased out across the UK, with masks now only compulsory in health and social care settings in Wales.

The legal requirement to wear face coverings was dropped in England on 16 March, while from Friday lateral flow tests will only be free for over-75s and those with weakened immune systems.

Testing is being wound down more gradually in Scotland, but the population-wide testing and contact tracing system will shut down by the end of April.


The Scottish Conservatives have called on the Scottish government to “give up control” of Covid restrictions.

Leader Douglas Ross said Ms Sturgeon “can’t use the higher case rates that she has completely failed to reduce as an excuse to delay or backtrack on lifting the remaining restrictions”.

Scottish Labour meanwhile has called for more support to be given to hospitals, saying that lives were being put at risk despite the “tireless” work of staff.

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