SCOTLAND’S high streets will finally re-open to shoppers today amid more signs the country is successfully suppressing the coronavirus.

Nicola Sturgeon said she felt a sense of “enormous relief” yesterday after it was confirmed there had been no Covid deaths north of the Border for three days in a row.

One of the First Minister’s advisers on the disease, Professor Devi Sridhar, said Scotland could become effectively Covid-free by the autumn on the current trajectory, provided the test and trace system dealt with any “bumps” on the way.

However it also emerged UK ministers may impose the country’s first local lockdown in Leicester after a surge in cases in the city.

Home Secretary Priti Patel confirmed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the move was a live option, but critical test data was still being analysed.

“Early next week we will know whether we have a problem,” she said. However, Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said there was “no immediate prospect” of a lockdown.

As Covid-19 infections worldwide topped 10 million, scientist Sir Jeremy Farrar, 
a member of the UK Government’s Sage advisory group on the disease, warned the UK remained “on a knife edge”, particularly in England as people took full advantage of the lockdown easing.

With English beaches inundated with tourists last week, prompting fears of a breakdown in social distancing, the Sunday Times also reported that travellers from south of the border may be forced to quarantine for 14 days to avoid flare-ups in Scotland.

READ MORE: No new coronavirus deaths in Scotland for three days

However a Scottish Government last night downplayed the idea, saying it was not part of current thinking, although regional lockdowns has always been seen as an option. 

Under Scotland’s route map out of the lockdown, all retailers with a street entrance can welcome back customers today while maintaining physical distancing rules. 

Outdoor markets, sport courts and playgrounds, zoos, wildlife parks and gardens are also allowed to reopen, as are factories, warehouses, labs and research facilities.

The construction sector also gets back to work, and housing moves are permitted again.

New Covid cases in Scotland have fallen from a peak of 430 a day in April to single figures in recent days, with eight more cases yesterday.

On BBC Politics Scotland, Prof Sridhar, of Edinburgh University, said Scotland was “not far away” from Ms Sturgeon’s goal of effectively eliminating the virus.

She said she did not expect there to be zero cases, but the numbers could be kept to negligible levels if the fight against it was maintained.

She said that if the current numbers continued, and track and trace worked, then “I think for me that’s pretty much a Covid-free Scotland. At that point the risk to people’s daily lives becomes negligible.

“I think Scotland is on track to eliminate coronavirus by the end of the summer by looking at the rate of the decrease [in new cases].

“But we are going to see little bumps, so it’s a question of how small can you keep those bumps.”

She said it would be “optimal” to regulate the flow of people over the border with England.

“Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are trying to work together on a memorandum of understanding, or a plan [regarding their border],” she said.

“Such a plan would be optimal, but that’s for the politicians to work out.”

She added: “I don’t think we’ll ever get to zero cases. But I think the closest we get is to say we keep pushing for zero and you keep dealing with these flare-ups.”

The retail sector, which reported a record 40 per cent slump in year-on-year sales in April as the lockdown took effect, said the return of customers was a lifeline for thousands of jobs.

The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and the shopworkers’ union Usdaw urged customers to follow five steps for “considerate shopping” - queue considerately, maintain social distancing, follow instructions inside and outside shops, follow hygiene measures and be respectful to staff.

READ MORE: Sir Tom Hunter urges Nicola Sturgeon to let business lead Covid recovery

The Scottish Government said shoppers should heed the signs in each store,  avoid peak hours, and wear face coverings when necessary.

SRC David Lonsdale said the last 14 weeks had been “very challenging” for stores, with only food shops and pharmacies staying open.

He said: “It has never been more important to play our part in keeping our towns and retail destinations vibrant.

“Every visit we make helps support jobs in retail and throughout the supply chain.
“Retailers have been working around the clock to create a safe shopping environment, so their customers can have the confidence to return to their favourite shops.

“Our shopping experience may be changing, but if we all follow the necessary social distancing and hygiene measures and show consideration to those around us, then everyone will be better off.”

He added: “The last fourteen weeks have been very challenging for retailers. Lockdown has forced them to rely on their limited reserves of cash and short term financial support, including the Scottish Government’s grants and rates relief, to survive. Being able to reopen today is a chance for those businesses to recover, and hopefully thrive.”

Andrew McRae of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, urged people to support local stores.

He said: “Local independent retailers have had a very long, tough few months and they need the public’s support now more than ever.

“We know that money spent locally stays in the local community - and local communities can’t recover unless local economies do so too.”

Stewart Forrest, of Usdaw, said: “Unfortunately the early part of the coronavirus crisis saw a rise in instances of abuse towards shop workers.

“Customers need to play their part and be patient, observe social distancing and show respect to shop workers, whilst ensuring high streets and town centres remain vibrant and a great shopping experience for everyone.”

SNP Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The progress made in tackling Covid-19 because of compliance of the public with lockdown rules means we are now in a position to ease some restrictions.

“Shops with street access in high streets across the country will be re-opening from today in a significant step towards the recovery of our economy, which has been very severely hit by coronavirus.

“High street retailers have shown huge resilience since the start of lockdown and the work they have done to safely prepare for re-opening, with close engagement between industry and trade unions, has been very welcome.

“As the high street re-opens we are making it clear shoppers are welcome back to their local high street as long as they shop safely and observe key safety messages such as the wearing of face coverings.”

Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said: “The reopening of the High Streets is a really positive step for all of us – another big step towards normal life.  

“Scotland is undoubtedly facing a significant economic challenge.

“The Scottish Government must start to revitalise our economy, but so can we – we can get out there and spend money.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “To allow us to move out of lockdown it is critical that we keep transmission of the virus as low as possible – and that includes transmission from high to low risk areas. Scotland has put in place enhanced surveillance to identify those risks, and has long-established powers, enhanced by recent coronavirus legislation, to manage them.

“We are, in common with countries across the world, having to take unprecedented steps to deal with the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic brings. As we hopefully suppress the virus further, we will continue to consider any measures that might be necessary to protect against the risk of imported cases of the virus. At all times the Scottish Government’s actions have been guided by the best and most up to date expert scientific advice.”