First Minister's fears as she begins to lift COVID-19 restrictions

Nervous Nicola lifts lockdown...but just a little

That just might be the kind of headline we see in tomorrow's Scottish newspapers after the First Minister's tentative steps to ease the COVID-19 restrictions.

It's not the kind of headline you'd often see applied to Nicola Sturgeon. In all my time observing her as a politician I have never seen her nervous, let alone admit it.

Take on a Prime Minister in a live TV debate? Bring it on. Command the Holyrood chamber when her government is under pressure? Past master. Face difficult questions from the public? Been there, done that, and often.

It is a mark of the momentous decision she has had to make that in moving Scotland to 'phase 1' of her government's 'route map' out of lockdown she admitted to feeling "a bit nervous".

Recycling centre in the Scottish Borders remains closed. Credit: PA

Why should she be? After all, as the First Minister told her media briefing today there is now solid evidence the COVID-19 virus is under control, though far from beaten

She has "reasonable confidence" the R number - the virus reproduction rate - has been below 1 for more than three weeks. Last week there were 25,000 infectious cases. The latest estimate is 19,000.

The number of patients in intensive care has fallen by 80% since the peak; the number of hospital admissions down by more than 80%; deaths associated with COVID-19 have declined for the last four weeks.

All of which points to this being the time to relax the severe restrictions on all of our lives the Scottish government has insisted on, and the public has overwhelmingly adhered to.

Yet the First Minister's nerves remain. And for good reason. Although the Scottish government has moved more slowly than the UK government, it is moving in the same direction.

That is from rules backed up by law more towards advice backed up by pleas to the public to follow it.

From a simple 'Stay at Home' message to something more subtle and nuanced - though, for the record, 'stay at home' has not formally been dropped.

The danger is people see the reopening of garden centres, drive through coffee shops, the guidance that you can sunbathe or see people from one household as the end of the restrictions, not the beginning of the end.

With the forecast for the next few days of great weather, the First Minister fears that the public, having been in lockdown since 23 March, will throw coronavirus caution to the wind.

And if they do then she worries that she will have to reimpose the harshest of restrictions to try to stop a second peak of the virus - a fear Boris Johnson must also share, even if he will not say so in public.

Golf course prepares to safely reopen. Credit: PA

So while many people are sunning themselves over the weekend, Nicola Sturgeon will be fretting over whether she has made the right call or not.

It will be hard for the First Minister to relax over the next few days, though it's worth pointing out that while she may confess to being nervous, she also possesses nerves of steel. That should help.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know