NICOLA Sturgeon looks set to accelerate Scotland’s progress out of lockdown today, but stressed there will be no change to the two-metre distancing rule before next week.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a shift to “one-metre plus” in England, with hairdressers, pubs, restaurants, and hotels allowed to re-open from July 4.

Scotland’s First Minister is to provide a “general update” today on Scotland’s routemap out of lockdown, which comes just days after some Phase Two measures - including meeting with family friends indoors, and opening beer gardens - were put on hold.

Ms Sturgeon said: “As part of that, I’ll set out some indicative dates for when some measures and some phases - all being well - will come into effect.

“I said from the very start that if we maintained good progress we could move through phases perhaps more quickly, or bring certain measures forward.

“In some instances, that’s what we hope now to be able to do. But I want to stress that we are taking, and will continue to take, a cautious approach.

“Our aim remains maximum suppression of this virus because that is what will give us the firmest foundation to face whatever comes ahead.

“To deal with outbreaks such as those we’re seeing in other countries right now through targeted measures and also equip ourselves as best as possible to deal with any possible resurgence in the virus as we enter the winter months.”

READ MORE: CMO warns health boards not to assume Covid antibodies provide immunity 

In Scotland, Phase Three is currently scheduled to come into effect after July 9, paving the way for museums, cinemas, galleries, libraries, and hairdressers to re-open.

It originally included indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and swimming pools, although these are now considered high-risk venues and have been ruled out of England’s July 4 relaxations.

In Scotland, July 15 had also been announced previously as the date for the hospitality sector, including hotels, guest houses, B&Bs, pubs and restaurants, to resume trading.

However, there has been mounting pressure on the Scottish Government to relax the two-metre physical distancing rule which hospitality bosses said would limit capacity for customers too much for some businesses to be financially viable.

Ms Sturgeon said she is awaiting a review of the evidence by Scottish Government scientific advisors, having asked them to consider if and how Scotland could reduce the physical distancing requirement ahead of the move into Phase Three.

The findings will be reported on July 2, but Ms Sturgeon stressed that for now the two-metre rule remains in place in Scotland.

"The more we can continue to suppress the virus now, the more likely it is that we will be able to consider some changes to that rule," she said, adding that Scotland is "not far away" from eliminating community transmission of coronavirus if cases continue to decline.

Dr Gregor Smith, Scotland's interim chief medical officer, said this could be "within reach" over the next few months. Elimination means the virus is no longer spreading, rather than eradicated.

READ MORE: Scotland 'on safe side' of pandemic as only one in 200 Covid tests comes back positive 

Ms Sturgeon, who confirmed 12 new cases and four deaths from the virus yesterday, said: "The opportunity, if you get it to that level of elimination, is that you can deal with imported cases on a much more targeted basis rather than facing the prospect of general blanket lockdowns again."

Professor Devi Sridhar, an expert in global public health at Edinburgh University and a member of the Scottish Government's Covid Advisory Group, said an increasing number of countries around the world are "trying to suppress the virus to a low level and, where possible, eliminate it before reopening their schools, shops and restaurants".

Writing in the Guardian, she said: "As an island, Great Britain is in a strong position to eliminate the virus and fully reopen schools, bars and theatres as well as bringing back sports matches and weddings without pointless debates about one or two-metre distancing measures."

Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said the two-metre rule was already preventing thousands of businesses from re-opening and called on the First Minister to urgently review the situation.

Mr Carlaw said: “There’s no doubt that elsewhere in the UK things are really beginning to happen. The risk now is that Scotland is left behind socially and economically.

“It will be very difficult for people here to look on as England, and indeed the rest of Europe, begins a return to normal.

“It will also be very costly for businesses, industries like tourism and hospitality, and the mental health of the nation. The people of Scotland will not accept a go-slow approach from Nicola Sturgeon much longer.”

It came as the Prime Minister set out his mass unlocking plan for England, which will see pubs and restaurants reopen and allow customers inside and outdoors from next weekend.

Hair salons, wildlife parks, hotels and holiday homes will be able to open, provided they have created a 'Covid secure' environment.

READ MORE: Swinney in 'colossal U-turn' on school re-openings 

Measures could include putting up screens, having staff wear PPE, increasing ventilation, providing hand sanitiser and creating one-way systems through exhibits and shops.

Crucially, Mr Johnson has also cut the two-metre social distancing rule to "one metre plus", which he described as "one metre apart while taking mitigations to reduce the risk". These include reducing the amount of time spent indoors with other people and wearing a mask on public transport.

Two households of any size will also be allowed to meet up indoors under the plans, though they cannot hug.

Conservative MP John Lamont said his constituents in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, would "not get the benefits" of the PM's measures "as the First Minister of Scotland is delaying Scotland's release from lockdown."

Alister Jack, Secretary of State for Scotland added that Scotland "must also start looking at how to open our economy safely."

He said: "Given the significant fall in the incidence of the disease, and following the review from our scientific experts, the UK Government has taken cautious steps forward.

"I would urge the Scottish Government to also act quickly and decisively to help Scottish businesses get back on their feet.”

Nail bars, beauty salons, spas, nightclubs, indoor play areas, and tattoo parlours will remain closed in England, but places of worship will be allowed to hold services from July 4 - though singing, thought to increase risk of transmission, will be banned.

Weddings with up to 30 people will be permitted, and customers to pubs and restaurants will be asked to leave their contact details in case the venue is subsequently linked to a positive case.

Meanwhile Health Secretary Jeane Freeman confirmed that from July 8 all hospital staff working in specialist cancer units, long-stay mental health wards, and long-term care of the elderly wards would be routinely tested for Covid once a week as part of measures to limit transmission of Covid as NHS services are stepped up.

Medical and adult care home staff who are in contact with patients or residents will be required to wear medical-grade face masks from Monday. Visitors and patients attending hospital for outpatient or day case procedures will also be required to wear face coverings.

"This new measure is designed to reduce the risk of transmission from the person wearing the mask or face covering," said Ms Freeman.