Scotland’s rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport will remain in place until April due to a rise in cases of Covid-19.

All other restrictions on businesses and services are to move from legal requirement to guidance from 21 March.

But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it would be “prudent” to keep mask rules in place due to a spike in cases.

These will be reviewed again in two weeks, and are likely to be converted to guidance by April 4.

Ms Sturgeon said a sharp rise in infections was putting “significant pressure on hospital capacity”, but that vaccines were still giving people good protection.

She also told MSPs that mass testing will be wound down in April, with routine testing and contact tracing to end by May.

The average number of new cases reported each day in Scotland is more than 12,000, up from an average of 6,900 per day three weeks ago.

There has also been a rise in the number of people in hospital with Covid-19, from 1,060 three weeks ago to 1,996 today.

Ms Sturgeon said the BA.2 variant of Omicron was now the dominant strain of the virus in Scotland, accounting for more than 80% of cases – adding that while it spreads much more quickly, there is no evidence it causes more severe illness than previous variants.

Under the government’s strategic framework for managing the virus, remaining legal restrictions – including mask-wearing and the need for businesses to record customer contact details and follow other guidance – were to be lifted on 21 March.

The rules for businesses will be dropped as planned, but Ms Sturgeon said she needed to “ask everyone to be patient for a little while longer on face coverings”.

She said: “I know this will be disappointing for businesses and service providers such as day care services.

“However, ensuring continued widespread use of face coverings will provide some additional protection – particularly for the most vulnerable – at a time when the risk of infection is very high, and it may help us get over this spike more quickly.”

The first minister stressed that the lifting of other measures marked “steady progress back to normal life and a more sustainable way of managing this virus”.

But the Scottish Conservatives said mask rules staying in place was “a blow for households and businesses”.

Leader Douglas Ross urged Ms Sturgeon to trust people to manage their own risks, adding: “We can’t get complacent with Covid, but we need to move forward – we can’t stay stuck with Covid rules forever.”


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