LONDON — The day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson set England on course for “freedom day” next week, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Tuesday outlined more cautious plans to relax coronavirus rules and said face masks would still be required for “some time to come.”
While England embarks on a wholesale lifting of its remaining restrictions on Monday, people in Scotland will still be urged to work from home, face restrictions on the size of gatherings and be obliged to wear face coverings in indoor spaces, including public transportation.
Throughout the pandemic Ms. Sturgeon has taken a more cautious approach than Mr. Johnson, prioritizing heath over the economy and invariably adopting tougher restrictions, and her announcement on Tuesday was no exception.
“A gradual approach stands the best chance of minimizing further health harm and loss of life,” Ms. Sturgeon told a virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament, adding that “because a gradual approach stands the best chance of being a sustainable approach it will be better in the long term for the economy as well.”
The difference was most stark on the issue of face coverings which, she said, would remain mandatory in Scotland “not just now, but in all likelihood, for some time to come.”
On Monday Mr. Johnson said that rules requiring masks would be scrapped in England, but that the government would recommend their use in crowded indoor places such as public transportation. Even that was a change in tone from Mr. Johnson and some of his ministers who had previously appeared more enthusiastic about ending the use of face coverings. And tabloid newspapers have campaigned for the end of restrictions, a moment they have anticipated as “freedom day.”
In a thinly veiled attack on Mr. Johnson’s policy on masks, Ms. Sturgeon said that “if a government believes that measures like this matter — and this government does — we should say so, we should do what is necessary to ensure compliance and we should be prepared to take any resulting flak.”
She added, pointedly: “We shouldn’t lift important restrictions to make our lives easier and then expect the public to take responsibility for doing the right thing anyway.”
Despite the caveats, Ms. Sturgeon said that infections in Scotland were falling sufficiently to allow all Scottish regions to move to the lowest tier of restrictions, known as Level 0, from Monday. This means that all shops, pubs, restaurants and other venues can open, except for nightclubs and adult entertainment. However, some social distancing rules will remain and hospitality venues will have to close at midnight.
If the data continues to improve, a further relaxation of restrictions will be made in August.
Scotland recorded 2,529 daily cases according to the latest figures, a reduction in the numbers after a rapid rise at the beginning of the month.
Mr. Johnson believes the vaccine rollout is weakening the link between infections and hospital admissions, and Ms. Sturgeon expressed some relief that the National Health Service seemed to be under less strain than at other points during the pandemic. Still, she said that the system could face pressure if the case numbers were to rise. In Scotland, virtually all those over 60 years old have been fully vaccinated, including 96 percent of those aged 55 to 59, she said.
“Lifting all restrictions and mitigations right now would put all of us at greater risk,” Ms. Sturgeon added, “but in particular it would make it much more difficult for the most clinically vulnerable to go about their normal life.”
However Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Scotland’s opposition party, said that the sacrifices made by the public were not being fully rewarded and that “the balance has to tilt further in favor of moving forward.”