OPPOSITION parties have questioned whether Nicola Sturgeon can deliver her route map out of the coronavirus lockdown because of stubborn problems with testing and tracing.

The Tories said the SNP Government had to “significantly up its game” on the contacting and isolating of Covid sufferers or risk failure.

The First Minister today published out a four-stage exit strategy for the coming months, saying the easing of restrictions would depend on the continued suppression of the virus.

She said the gradual return to normality would involve a test, trace and isolate strategy - known as Test Protect - which would be ramped up by health boards from May 28.

This should allow the current blanket lockdown to be replaced by a targeted system in which sick people and those they might have infected are rapidly identified. 

In her foreword to the plan, Ms Sturgeon wrote: Our test, trace, isolate and support system is already being trialled and it will be a crucial tool in controlling the virus.

"It is an important part of our integrated strategy and is crucial for infection control, shielding and protecting shielders.

"It is critical for specific issues, for example, the return to schools."

However there was scepticism at Holyrood about preparations for the new regime. 

Only 600 contact tracers out of a target of 2000 by June appear to have been lined up, and all those have been diverted from within health boards, rather than being new recruits.

The Scottish Government has also failed to hit its existing daily testing targets. 

The Scottish Tories said the lockdown plan would fail with rapid improvements to testing, and said the contact tracers would be key to it working.

Leader Jackson Carlaw said: “We all want to exit lockdown as soon and as safely as possible, for the sake of the economy and for the physical and mental health of the nation.

“And while many of the plans outlined today are welcome and give cause for optimism, they will only succeed if the SNP get testing absolutely right.

“Unfortunately, failings on testing so far have been the weakest aspect of this SNP government response to the coronavirus crisis.

“Tens of thousands of tests have gone unused and there have been major problems in getting tests to the vulnerable people who need them most, and those who work with them.

“The SNP has to significantly up its game on coronavirus testing, otherwise every stage of this lockdown exit will be put in grave jeopardy.”

The Scottish Greens said the route map had to be backed up by “robust testing ad tracing”. 

MSP Alison Johnstone said: “It is clear lockdown will be increasingly hard to maintain, so I welcome the clarity provided by today’s route map.

"It gives everyone in Scotland much needed detail on how we can suppress the virus and lift restrictions, and it’s in stark contrast to the reckless approach taken by the UK Government, which has seen many people already sent back to work without the clear ability to test, trace and isolate every case in place.

“That’s why we need confidence in Scotland’s capacity to do this properly. 

“The World Health Organisation is clear that testing and tracing every case is needed before restrictions are lifted, yet we have seen Scotland fail to meet its own capacity for testing and contact tracing is not yet rolled out across the country. 

“This clearly needs to happen as soon as possible.”

Scottish Labour also called on the Scottish Government to expand testing, as well as put in place an emergency plan for care homes, scene of almost half of Scotland’s Covid deaths.

Leader Richard Leonard said: “The crisis in our care homes, the unnecessary deaths in our care homes, the anxiety and fear of staff in our care homes, these have not gone away.

“The Government was too slow to take responsibility for care home residents for the first two months of this crisis. As lockdown is lifted we need to consider how to treat residents with respect.

“That is about the protection of their physical health through testing and PPE, but it is also about their mental and emotional well-being.”

He also urged Ms Sturgeon to work with other parties and trade unions to develop a new industrial strategy in readiness for the coming recession.

He said: “We need a plan for the economy that starts with a plan for a return to work on a sector by sector basis, which is strategic, thought through, and safe, rather than an arbitrary ‘if you can’t work from home go out to work’ message.

“We are facing a massive rise in unemployment, the potential collapse of town centres, night-time economies going bust. And there are looming worries about the gap in public finances, and about not just present but future job losses.” 

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said there was a risk of confused messaging over the four phase approach, especially if it was out of sync with the rest of the UK.

He said: “The possibility of the country being in different phases for different activities at the same time will need careful and clear explanation if we are to avoid confusion and risk increasing the spread of the virus. 

“The First Minister suggests we could be in phase two for work but phase four for schools and phase three for getting around. That might confuse many people.

“To help the compliance with the guidance we need a clear overarching message. 

“The message this week is stay at home, next week it will be stay at home as much as possible. We need to understand what the message will be for further phases. 

“The First Minister is silent on that but the government will need to set that out so we can communicate effectively.

"She also stressed that the government's Test and Protect policy will be most effective when levels of infection are low. They must set out how this will be maintained and guarantee that the testing and tracing infrastructure is in place to make it a reality."

Setting out her plan, Ms Sturgeon said: 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: The current key public health guidance remains to stay at home except for essential purposes, but the route map provides information about how and when we might ease our lockdown restrictions while continuing to suppress the virus.

“The lockdown restrictions have been necessary to reduce and mitigate the massive harm caused by the Covid-19 virus, but the lockdown itself causes harm including loneliness and social isolation, deepening inequalities and damage to the economy.

"That is why I have set out the gradual and incremental phases by which we will aim to ease lockdown matched with careful monitoring of the virus.

“At every one of these stages, the biggest single factor in controlling the virus will be how well we continue to observe public health advice.

"Continued hand washing, cough hygiene and physical distancing will continue to be essential as will wearing a face covering where appropriate.

“By doing the right thing, all of us have helped to slow the spread of the virus, to protect the NHS, and to save lives and as a result we are able – gradually, cautiously, and in phases – to plan our move towards a new normality.”