Nicola Sturgeon has warned there is no certainty the lockdown across mainland Scotland will be lifted at the end of January, or that schools will reopen.
The first minister said there was no definitive answer on when restrictions would end as it depended on the latest surge in cases subsiding significantly. Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, has indicated that England’s lockdown could last until March.
There were “inherent uncertainties” with the pandemic, Sturgeon told BBC Radio Scotland.
She linked the easing of restrictions, which came into force at midnight on Monday, with the roll-out of vaccinations, but admitted the government was still waiting for confirmation about deliveries. “The focus when supplies allow is to get people vaccinated because that’s the way out of this,” she said.
By the end of January, they were confident of having 900,000 doses available for people in the top categories of those in line for the vaccine – the over-80s and frontline health workers – with large batches of the two vaccines due later in the month. It was possible even more doses could arrive in January.
The forecast was that by early May, about 2.7 million people on the priority lists from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – involving all those over 50 and those under 50 with specific underlying health conditions – would have had their first dose.
However, she said: “We don’t yet have certainty about delivery schedules after January, but that is firming up all the time.”
Asked whether that meant the lockdown would last until May, she said: “No. Not necessarily. I can’t be definitive right now about when we will lift these restrictions.”
If the lockdown succeeded in suppressing the virus “then hopefully we will be able to start lifting some of these restrictions while the vaccination programme is ongoing, even that first phase of it. But I can’t be certain about that yet, because it is dependent on us managing to get these levels of infection down again.”
The question of school closures would be reviewed on 18 January. “I really hope the situation will have improved to the extent we can say children can go back into school buildings on 1 February but I can’t be 100% certain about that,” she said.
The Scottish government is also in talks with universities about further postponing the return of students to campuses. While Scottish universities had organised a phased return of students during January, that was now under review.