Scotland’s first minister has said she expects the coronavirus outbreak to continue to decline after the country’s infection rate fell slightly.
Nicola Sturgeon said the so-called R number – essentially the rate at which the virus spreads – was now estimated to be between 0.6 and 0.8.
This is lower than the previous estimate of between 0.7 and 0.9.
Ms Sturgeon said it suggested the country was making “real progress in combating and suppressing the virus”.
And she said it was likely she would be able to announce further easing of the lockdown restrictions next Thursday.
The R number shows the rate at which the virus is reproducing. If is above one every person with the virus will infect more than one other person and the virus will then continue to spread.
If R is below one – as it currently is thought to be – then the number of people with the virus will fall over time.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Under that estimate, we expect that the virus will continue to decline.”
The first minister said that an estimated 4,500 people had the virus and were infectious in Scotland last Friday, compared with 11,500 the previous Friday.
However, she stressed that it was now thought that the 11,500 figure had been an over-estimate, so the number of infectious people had not more than halved in a week.
The first minister also cautioned that the latest data did not cover the period since Scotland introduced the first phase of lockdown easing.
But she added: “Notwithstanding that, these latest estimates reflect the encouraging data that we have seen in the last couple of weeks.
“And there is no doubt, looking at all of this data, that we are making very real progress in combating and suppressing the virus in Scotland.
“A week today, we will have a further review of the lockdown restrictions. I am currently very hopeful that at that point we will be able to lift some further restrictions.
“We may not be able to do everything in phase two but I hope that we can do certainly at least some of that.”
Scotland’s route map for easing lockdown
The Scottish government has identified four phases for easing the restrictions:
Phase 1 (already in place): Virus not yet contained but cases are falling. From 28 May you should be able to meet another household outside in small numbers. Sunbathing is allowed, along with some outdoor activities like golf and fishing. Garden centres and drive-through takeaways can reopen, some outdoor work can resume, and childminding services can begin.
Phase 2: Virus controlled. You can meet larger groups outdoors, and meet another household indoors. Construction, factories, warehouses, laboratories and small shops can resume work. Playgrounds and sports courts can reopen, and professional sport can begin again.
Phase 3: Virus suppressed. You can meet people from more than one household indoors. Non-essential offices would reopen, along with gyms, museums, libraries, cinemas, larger shops, pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and dentists. Live events could take place with restricted numbers and physical distancing restrictions. Schools should reopen from 11 August.
Phase 4: Virus no longer a significant threat. University and college campuses can reopen in full, mass gatherings are allowed. All workplaces open and public transport is back at full capacity.
Ms Sturgeon confirmed that the construction industry will now be able to move to the next stage of its restart plan, with workers being allowed to gradually return to sites.
But the industry will need to ensure that measures such as proper physical distancing and hand hygiene are in place.
The first minister said: “We still have a long way to go before construction will be working at full capacity, but there’s no doubt this is a significant step in allowing an important industry to return safely to work.”
However, she said the current social distancing rules on keeping at least 2m apart was the best policy “for now”.
The Scottish government has been facing calls from the tourism industry, pubs, restaurants and other businesses to reduce the distance to make it easier for them to reopen.
The World Health Organisation recommends a social distance of at least 1m – and several countries around the world have cut their required distance to less than 2m.