LONDON (Reuters) – Life is unlikely to return to normal even when the tightest coronavirus restrictions are lifted, and social distancing measures could be in place for the rest of this year and beyond, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Thursday.
Britain’s Westminster government has been under pressure to outline its plans for easing tight restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as the economy takes a big hit from the measures.
Sturgeon, the head of the devolved Scottish government, said it was important to have an open conversation and be frank about what life might look like for the rest of the year, though she said no firm decisions had been taken.
“A return to normal as we knew it is not on the cards in the near future… What we will be seeking to do is find a new normal – a way of living alongside this virus but in a form that keeps it under control,” Sturgeon said at a news conference.
“Social distancing and limiting our contacts with others will be a fact of life for a long time to come, certainly until treatments and ultimately a vaccine offer different solutions. So that means possibly for the rest of this year, and maybe even beyond.”
Sturgeon’s comments echoed those of the UK government’s top medical adviser, who on Wednesday said that Britain would likely have to rely on social measures until the end of the calendar year to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Sturgeon said that any steps to ease restrictions would need to be gradual and would likely be small at the start, and could be reversed if they had undesired effects.
“That’s why talk of lifting the lockdown, as if it’s a flick of a switch moment, is misguided,” she said.
“Given how severely this virus is affecting older people and those with other health vulnerabilities, some form of shielding will almost certainly be required for the foreseeable future.”
Sturgeon said that “careful balances” would need to be struck, adding that it was possible certain businesses in certain industries could reopen if they changed how they worked to maintain social distancing.
She said school classrooms might also need to be redesigned to allow more children to go back to school while sticking to distancing guidelines, but big gatherings and events were likely to be off for some months to come.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)