End of Scottish face mask rules delayed until Easter

( BBC )

Scotland's mandatory face covering rules will now remain in force until 18 April, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The legal requirement to wear masks in shops and on public transport had been expected to be lifted next week.

But the first minister told MSPs that the changes would now not take effect until 18 April.

She said this was due to there still being a very high level of infection in Scotland, and because masks provide extra protection.

However, the requirement to wear a face covering in places of worship and while attending marriage and funeral services will end on 4 April.

Ms Sturgeon said this phased approach struck a "sensible balance between our desire to remove this one remaining legal measure and the common sense need for continued caution".

Case numbers have hit record levels in Scotland in recent days, with one in 11 people estimated to have had the virus in the week to 20 March.

Ms Sturgeon said daily figures were also very high but "perhaps stabilising", with a 15% fall in daily cases over the past week.

She said there were "grounds for optimism that this latest wave of infection may now have peaked".

However she said the high levels of infection and the pressure it was placing on the NHS meant the planned lifting of the law on face coverings would be delayed until 18 April.

She told MSPs that this would be a "proportionate precautionary measure while we pass the peak of this latest wave".

This is the second time the first minister has delayed lifting the face mask laws, which had originally been due to be removed on 21 March.

All of Scotland's other legal restrictions have already been phased out.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said Scotland's case rate being higher than other parts of the UK showed that the first minister's "strategy is clearly failing".

He said: "She is keeping restrictions in place here in Scotland weeks after they have been removed elsewhere.

"We believe that anyone who wants to keep wearing a face mask should do so, but it should be down to individual choice as it is in other parts of the UK.

"We should leave it up to people and businesses to decide what is best for them based on public health advice - Nicola Sturgeon has to start trusting the people of Scotland."

Ms Sturgeon accused the Tory leader of being "seriously out of step with the vast majority of people".

She said: "Particularly in public places where people don't always have a choice about being, people have to go to shops and therefore if we all wear face coverings in shops right now we help protect each other.

"For a couple of weeks more while we see this wave of infection peak and start to fall I think that is a sensible thing to do."

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