NICOLA Sturgeon has announced the extreme form of lockdown for those most at risk from coronavirus will be “paused” next week, with a raft of restrictions ending as soon as tomorrow.

Shielders will be able to visit hairdressers, cinemas and outdoors pubs and restaurants from Friday.

The First Minister said the 150,000-strong shielding group would no longer have to follow specific advice from August 1, but simply observe general rules also applying to the elderly. 

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From Friday, shielders will be able to meet with up to eight people from two households indoors subject to physical distancing, and up to 15 people from four household outdoors. 

Shielders will also be able to use public transport, including taxis, wearing a face covering; use outdoor species in pubs and restaurants; and indoor shops, pharmacies and markets.

The group, which includes organ transplant recipients and people on chemotherapy, can also use hairdressers and visit museums, galleries, libraries and cinemas from tomorrow.

Children living with someone who is shielding can also attend formal childcare providers.

Ms Sturgeon said her Government was also developing a “Covid forecasting service” for shielders which would use text messages to tell them about the local levels of risk.   

She said the service was being developed with an eye to the winter months, when the virus might regain ground, and said some local risk information might be made public for all. 

Speaking at the daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon said there had been no overnight Covid deaths, meaning only one laboratory-confirmed fatality north of the border in the past 15 days.

The total number of confirmed deaths remains at 2,491, although the total is 4,193 when suspected cases are included.

She said: “It is exactly four months today since the country went into lockdown, so there is no doubt that these figures show the incredible progress that has been made in that time.

She sent a "sincere and heartfelt" thanks to those who were shielding.

She said: "That has been incredibly tough and it's easy for me to say that but the reality is I actually find it hard to fully imagine just how difficult it has been.

"Shielding and shielding people demonstrate, perhaps more powerfully than anything does, just how all of us are dependent right now on each other's actions.

"The reason that we can pause shielding, hopefully at the end of next week, is because all of us have stuck to the guidance so far - and all of us need to continue to do that in order that we continue collectively to protect those at risk."

The First Minister announced 16 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in Scotland in the past day - 0.4% of those tested - taking the total 18,500.

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She said provisional figures indicated four new cases are in Lanarkshire, with the number of cases linked to the Sitel call centre in Bellshill up from 20 to 24.

"Given that the virus can have a long incubation period, intensive work is still ongoing in order to ensure that all possible chains of transmission are being closed down," she said.

Staff at the call centre help to trace contacts of positive Covid-19 cases for NHS England.

Despite the advances for shielders, there was no better news for home care residents.

Scotland’s chief nursing officer Fiona McQueen said the one person limit on outdoor visitors which was introduced on July 3 would remain in place for present.

She said further work had to be completed before indoor and larger group outdoor visiting would be possible.

She said: “We are working with Scottish Care and with the care home sector themselves, along with other professional advisory bodies, clinicians and others, to... take the next step of supporting indoor visiting by one person but also... three outdoor visitors for residents.

“I know that that is longed for within the care home sector.

"We are working hard to do that but at the moment what we are saying is that we want time to make sure that our care home residents are safe and therefore are continuing with our current visiting arrangements which is one outdoor visitor per care home resident.”

Since the start of the outbreak, there have been 6,841 cases of suspected Covid-19 in 697 (65%) adult care homes in Scotland.