Scotland Joins Rest of U.K. Easing Lockdown Amid Economic Pain

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accelerated the easing of lockdown rules amid growing political pressure to get people back to work and restart the critical tourism industry.

The changes, which in parts echo moves announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday, are earlier than planned and come as a report showed the economy may not recover until 2024 in a worst-case scenario.

“Our pace is slightly slower than England’s, but it is, in my view, right for our circumstances,” Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on Wednesday. Progress in tackling coronavirus means Scots could get back to normality “more quickly than we could have imagined a few weeks ago.”

Sturgeon won praise for taking a more cautious approach to the pandemic as the U.K. as a whole recorded the highest death toll in Europe. But she’s since come under fire for not moving out of lockdown more quickly given the dire state of the economy.

Under the updated route map, Scots will no longer have to stay within 5 miles of their homes from July 3 while beer gardens and restaurants can reopen outdoors from the following week. On July 15, pubs, cafes and restaurants can reopen indoors as long as social-distancing rules are observed.

Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney said on Tuesday that schools would now aim to reopen as normal from mid-August rather than a blend of in-class and home learning.

Scotland’s economy is facing its “deepest recession in living memory,” with an estimated 750,000 of the country’s 5.5 million people furloughed or reliant on government job support, according to a report from the Fraser of Allander Institute at Strathclyde University in Glasgow.

“It is only now once we start to switch the economy back on that the crisis will hit home with a raft of redundancies and business closures likely over the summer,” said Graeme Roy, a director at the research group. “The near 20% drop in economic activity in April for Scotland highlights the scale of the economic crisis that we face.”

Scotland’s pro-independence administration in Edinburgh has so far largely resisted pressure from London to ease lockdown restrictions more quickly.

While Johnson halved the two-meter distancing rule in England to help pubs, restaurants and other businesses to reopen, Sturgeon has so far refused to follow suit, pending new scientific advice due at the end of next week.

The moves are “too little, too late,” Scottish Conservative Leader Jackson Carlaw said in parliament. He repeated calls for Sturgeon to relax the two-meter rule in line with England’s guidance.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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