First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed island communities, including Shetland, will move to level one from Monday.
While most of Scotland is set for a move to level two, Ms Sturgeon today (Tuesday) announced a more rapid easing for islands.
In her first lunchtime briefing since the Scottish elections, she said the Covid situation was under sufficient control to allow a quicker move.
Ms Sturgeon highlighted consistently low levels of the virus, good vaccine coverage and the availability of lateral flow tests for anyone visiting.
“So for these reasons we’ve decided that it is possible and proportionate to reduce restrictions in the islands more quickly,” she said.
“All of these areas will move directly to level one from Monday, rather than from level two.”
It means up six people from three households can meet in each others’ homes and stay overnight, while up to eight from three households can meet in an indoor public place, such as a café, pub or restaurant.
And while hospitality businesses had already been permitted to open under level three, the new move to level one means alcohol can be served indoors and opening times extended until 11pm.
Ms Sturgeon also said that social distancing guidelines would be eased across both level one and two areas, meaning folk can hug their loved ones again.
She said she was “quite emotional” to make the announcement.
However, while hugging is permitted as part of household visits, social distancing will remain in place in public spaces.
Level one and two also enables cinemas and theatres to reopen.
The Scottish government will also lift the ban on non-essential travel, but on a “traffic light” system basis.
Countries will be ranked either red, amber or green, depending on the prevalence of the virus including the emergence of new strains.
For red listed countries, travellers entering Scotland will have to spend 10 days in a Covid hotel; for amber they will have to self isolate at home, and for green they must take a PCR test.
Ms Sturgeon said green listed countries would be the “exception rather than the rule” and to begin with have been restricted to just 12 nations, previously announced by the UK government.
These include areas such as the Falkland Islands, South Georgia.
Of potentially more interest to Shetland folk, however, Faroe is included.
But while Ms Sturgeon said the restrictions would be lifted, she added it did not mean it was necessarily desirable to travel abroad for non-essential reasons.
While acknowledging some folk would want to visit friends and family aboard, she said that for holidays here advice remained to take a ‘staycation’ in Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon said the greater freedoms had been “greatly missed and hard earned” but also stressed the need to continue exercising good sense and caution.
Following the announcement, Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said: “Today’s announcement will undoubtedly be welcome news. For many islanders, who have been living with low levels of the virus for months, this easing cannot come quickly enough.
“I know that it’s been a real source of frustration for many that strict restrictions have lingered on even despite the consistently low prevalence rate and the incredibly rapid vaccine roll-out.
“To finally be able to hug our loved ones will be a huge relief. It’s something that many of us won’t take for granted ever again.
“Looking ahead, the work for the recovery is only just beginning. With so many businesses on the edge and mental health really suffering, there needs to be openness about what support will look like during the recovery.
“While new freedoms will feel good, it will also be important to remember that many will feel anxious about restrictions easing. Islanders have been responsible throughout the pandemic, and it will be important to keep that vigilance mentality in the coming weeks and months.”