TEMPORARY walking and cycling routes are set to pop-up across Scotland in a bid to improve social distancing while Scots are now being advised to wear face coverings in “enclosed spaces”.

The Scottish Government has announced £10 million of funding for local authorities to provide “pop-up walking and cycling routes” to ensure pedestrians and peddlers have more space to get about amid social distancing restrictions.

The pledge by Transport Secretary Michael Matheson followed Nicola Sturgeon urging people using public transport and entering places where social distancing is not possible to wear face coverings.

The First Minister stressed that the advice is not mandatory and warned against “people thinking they are invincible to this virus because they are wearing a face mask”.

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Concerns have been raised over some people struggling to maintain social distancing - amid a 35% increase in cycling as the lockdown continues.

With social distancing set to be part of life in Scotland for some time, pedestrians and cyclists will be given more space on roads to ensure the public can safely move around.

But people should still only leave the house for work that cannot be done at home, for essential food and medicine and once a day for exercise.

The new £10m fund for local councils has been brought forward by Transport Scotland and the Sustrans Scotland charity.

Mr Matheson, who has written to councils, said: “I’m pleased we are able to put forward a package of support for our local authorities to implement temporary active travel measures, helping to ensure that people can walk, cycle and wheel during this public health emergency whilst physically distancing and keeping safe from traffic.

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“I have written to every local authority in Scotland to advise them that the Spaces for People initiative is designed with agility and pace in mind.

"Our communities need this support quickly, especially with the welcome increases in cycling we are seeing across the country.

"At the same time, almost every journey starts and ends on our pavements in some way, and so it is vitally important that people can physically distance for those essential trips or for exercise."

Air pollution levels in Scotland’s cities and large towns have plummeted amid the lockdown - and it is believed that some councils could put temporary measures in place quickly, with no legal changes needed.

It is thought that council bosses and Edinburgh and Glasgow are already working on plans.

John Lauder, deputy CEO at Sustrans Scotland, said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s package of support and we are ready to respond to local authorities’ needs.

"With our local authority partners we have helped turn around this idea in less than two weeks and it’s great to work with a government that listens and engages so actively.

“It’s clear that people across Scotland want to do the right thing during this Covid-19 crisis. They want to look after their physical and mental health.

"They also want to make sure that they are keeping to physical distancing guidelines while still being safe on our streets. The Spaces for People programme will allow that.”

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Opposition MSPs have called for the measures to become permanent following the exit from the lockdown.

Conservative MSP Graham Simpson said: “If we have got more people cycling, we don’t want to spend £10 million and take away those measures and see things slip back.”

Mr Matheson said "the initiative is designed with agility and pace in mind" but any permanent measures were down to councils to decide.

Social distancing will continue for months to come as more shops reopen and introduce floor markings to ensure customers keep two metres apart with smaller businesses operating a “one in one out” policy.

As both the Scottish and UK Governments consider the delicate and difficult operation of easing restrictions while maintaining a firm lid on the infection rate, other issues under consideration by ministers include allowing gatherings of “social bubbles” of people rather than just households, holding sporting events behind closed doors and enforcing stricter restrictions on travellers from abroad, such as a two-week quarantine.

Earlier, the First Minister announced that Scottish Government guidance has been updated to advise face coverings being worn, such as scarves in some situations “in enclosed spaces” - but not by children under the age of two.

She added: “We are recommending that you do wear a cloth face covering if you are in an enclosed space with others where social distancing is difficult, for example public transport or in a shop."

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With most shops closed at the moment, Ms Sturgeon said this will apply "in particular" to food shops.

"To be clear, the benefit comes mainly in cases where someone might have the virus but isn't aware of that because they are not experiencing any symptoms," she said.

"Wearing a face covering in these circumstances may reduce the chance of that person transmitting the virus on to others.

"So the Scottish Government is now recommending the use of face coverings in these limited circumstances, as a precautionary measure".

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Downing St hinted that the UK Government could soon follow suit south of the border on Edinburgh’s issue of guidance on face coverings in public places.

SAGE, the expert group advising Whitehall on the pandemic, has drawn up advice and this had been given to UK ministers but, thus far, no formal decision has been made.

At the Downing St daily press conference, Professor Angela Maclean, England’s Deputy Chief Scientific Officer, said the “evidence is weak, the effect is small” of wearing a face mask in public.

Downing St played down suggestions Boris Johnson would announce his Government’s exit strategy after chairing Cabinet on Thursday. However, it is thought the Prime Minister will give a sense of Whitehall’s direction of travel by the end of the week with a fuller announcement next week in time for May 7 when the three-week review is due.

Mr Johnson is expected to hold talks with Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, today on the UK Government’s lockdown strategy and will hold similar ones with Ms Sturgeon and her Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts, Mark Drakeford and Arlene Foster, at the start of next week.

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Asked if the FM’s announcement was helpful to the four-nation approach to the outbreak and if it signalled a growing divergence of approach to it between Scotland and England, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “There have been points in the response so far where announcements have been made at ever so slightly different times but by and large we have moved forward with a single four-nations’ approach.

“The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all said this seems to be the case and we would agree with that and we continue to work closely with them.”

After it was pointed out that Ms Sturgeon had also been a few hours ahead of London when she announced school closures, the FM came under fire on social media with references to attempting to embarrass Westminster.

The SNP leader hit back, tweeting: “I’m just trying to do my job - as every other government is. This tendency to read malign motives when all any of us is trying to do is tackle the virus as best we can, is tedious and misplaced.”

It was suggested that among the first businesses to reopen, as early as this weekend, would be garden centres.

During Commons exchanges, Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister, responded to a point made by a Conservative colleague, saying: “He also makes a valid point about garden centres. One of the things we know about this disease is that it spreads more easily inside than outside and as the Government reflects on how to lift current restrictions, that will be an important factor."