Nicola Sturgeon yesterday told Scots there are “much brighter times ahead” as she revealed details of how the coronavirus lockdown could be eased.

The First Minister said she expected the stay-at-home order would have to remain in place until April 5, but indicated that more children could go back to the classroom from March 15.

She also suggested the ban on communal worship could be lifted – possibly in time for Easter and Passover.

Ms Sturgeon’s statement to Holyrood did not go as far as Boris Johnson did on Monday – with the Prime Minister having given people in England a four-stage plan that could see all restrictions there lifted by June 21.

But the Scottish First Minister insisted she did not want to give “arbitrary” dates on when life could return to something more like normal.

She said: “The further into the future we go, the reality is any dates that we give at this stage are more arbitrary.

“It is like putting your finger in the wind and coming up with a date that is not firmly based in the evidence.”

Speaking today, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith said “we clearly can’t stay in lockdown indefinitely”, but defended the Scottish Government’s “cautious” approach.

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He told BBC Radio Scotland's GMS: “It’s very very important at this point in time that we plot our way out of lockdown very cautiously and safely.

“We’ve got a new variant that we know is much more transmissible than the virus we were dealing with before, it’s potentially causing more illness and potentially causing more hospitalisations, but on the plus side we’ve also got this wonderfully encouraging news from our rapidly expanding vaccine programme.

“Nonetheless, where we are in terms of the pandemic and the number of cases that we’re seeing is still precarious.

“It’s right that we take a very cautious approach because what we don’t want to do is to precipitate any return of ‘R’ above one so that we start to see that growth in cases again.”

Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament yesterday that “if all goes according to plan”, the country will move back to the levels system of coronavirus restrictions from April 26, with all council areas moving to Level 3.

This will allow a “phased but significant reopening of the economy, including non-essential retail, hospitality and services like gyms and hairdressers”, the First Minister said.

However, questions have been raised of the fairness of this approach - with case numbers in council areas varying greatly.

However, Dr Smith stressed that by applying blanket restrictions and closely monitoring the situation would prevent cases from high-prevalence areas quickly spreading to more rural communities.

He said: “At this moment in time, until the whole country has stabilised, it’s really important that we don’t allow some of those higher case rate areas to seed into other areas, that’s why taking a very steady, slow cautious approach out of this is the best way that we can potentially prevent any climbing cases.

“We’re dealing with a completely new virus here because of the increased transmissibility - what we don’t want to do is tip the balance in its favour, and allow more contact between people than is necessary and that causes that virus growth to become exponential again.

“If we do that, we would have to go back the way and delay further opening up , this way we can properly monitor each phase we’re going through.

“We’ve seen from the experience in places like the Western Isles just how little it takes for that growth to really rapidly take off, even in more rural areas. We’ll continue to keep a close eye on all the geography of Scotland and the data that comes from those.”

"We just can't know for sure yet"

National Clinical Director for Scotland Jason Leitch explained this morning why Scotland was planning to ease lockdown every three weeks, reviewing the data over an “incubation period and a half”.

He told the programme: “You can then look at the data and give people as much data and as much prediction as you possibly can.

"If Scots want to circle June 21 on their calendars for more normality then that’s terrific, I just can’t put my hand on my heart and say that that’s going to be true; because I don’t know about new variants, I don’t know about prevalence, and I don’t know yet if the vaccine is going to really stop transmission.

“We’re very hopeful, and everything looks good, but we just can’t know for sure yet. As soon as we are more confident, we will of course release and give more details, and let people out.”

Many Scots have taken to social media to share their views on the First Minister's announcement yesterday.

Some have praised the cautious approach, with some saying it is too much so while others say it does not go far enough.