ECONOMISTS and businesses have praised the First Minister’s "safety first" approach to easing lockdown restrictions as they responded to the Scottish Government's strategy.

Tracy Black, CBI Scotland Director, welcomed Nicola Sturgeon's statement to Holyrood and the publication of a four phase routemap easing existing measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

She said: "Businesses across Scotland will welcome the publication of a route map for economic restart that puts safety first. Unless people feel safe, employees won't return to work, customers will stay away and the restart will falter, putting people’s livelihoods at further risk.

"The four phases outlined provide a helpful starting point for firms preparing for the restart and those already working hard to ensure their operations are as safe as possible for staff and customers. For the Scottish construction industry, which has been hit so hard by the crisis, the resumption of activity in phase one will come as a significant relief. "

She added: "While businesses recognise that timings may vary based on scientific evidence, the principles and guidance that underpin the restart should be transparent and as consistent as possible across the UK. With the UK Government having already provided a helpful template looking at workplace settings, firms will be keen to see an acceleration of specific workplace guidance for Scotland that follows the same approach.

"Like the rest of the UK, Scotland faces months of change and challenge. A unified approach to reopening the economy – involving both governments, business and employee representatives – is vital to instilling public confidence and getting the economy back on its feet.”

Mairi Spowage, Deputy Director of the Fraser of Allander Institute at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, noted the more cautious approach taken by the First Minister than that followed by Boris Johnson in England.

"Overall the approach is more cautious than the relaxation of measures in England, with more of a focus still on staying at home and staying local," she said.

"Those businesses able to reopen in the phase which is set to begin next Thursday will only be those operating outside and able to put in place physical distancing measures."

She added: "What is clear is that large parts of the economy will remain mothballed, or operating significantly below capacity, for many weeks and months to come.

"Obviously, as some workplaces open from next week, it will be challenging for workers who need to use public transport. Employers are asked to consider flexible working patterns and staggered start, but it may not always be possible. We understand further guidance on transport will be forthcoming in the next few days.”

Spowage went on to say a number of questions still remained in Scotland including what support would be given to parents to help them return to work while managing their caring responsibilities. She said she hoped the issue would be be addressed by forthcoming Scottish Government guidance.

"It will be important that early guidance and additional support is available to parents and those with caring responsibilities to help them work with their employers to find ways for them to get back to work safely, despite the constraints around physical distancing which are likely to remain for some time," she added.

"The support for those who need to continue to shield themselves will also need to be explicitly set out.”

The Scottish Government later announced an NHS Scotland test, trace, isolate and support strategy – known as Test and Protect - will be ready for expansion in all 14 health boards from May 28.