NICOLA Sturgeon has defended the Scottish Government’s contact testing regime, saying it was “moving at pace” and would be ready for next week’s easing of the lockdown.

The First Minister was challenged yesterday with Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tory leader, accusing her of “lagging behind”.

He said the public would not have confidence and would not feel safe unless “the infrastructure for testing and tracing” was in place.

In the Government’s route map, published yesterday, the First Minister made clear that the test, trace, isolate, support system, now known as Test and Protect, would need to be in place before ministers “significantly” ease restrictions.

This essentially means that anyone with symptoms consistent with Covid-19 will need to be tested, and their close contacts identified, tracked down and tested too.

Anyone who tests positive will then be told to self-isolate to protect themselves and others from transmitting the virus further.

“There is a risk that, without a proper testing and tracing plan, we will not get ahead of the virus, and a return to lockdown will then be the consequence,” Carlaw told MSPs.

“I do not think that, as things stand, the First Minister has yet secured that plan for testing and tracing. We heard this week that the recruitment of contact tracers to achieve the target of 2000, which the First Minister confirmed in the chamber a fortnight ago, by June 1, is lagging behind. We know that, even now, actual testing is running at around half of available capacity.”

Sturgeon replied: “The plans for that are not lagging behind. They are moving at pace. The Health Secretary confirmed at the weekend that health boards have already identified 600 individuals who are ready to do that. We will have a capacity of 2000 in place by the end of this month.

“We have the testing capacity that we need for that.

“I appreciate that testing is important in every phase, but it is important not to look at the reasons for, the demand for, and the purpose of testing now and equate that with testing in the test and protect phase.

“They fulfil the same purpose, but they are different phases.”

Labour leader Richard Leonard asked the First Minister to guarantee “maximum testing capacity”.

That point was echoed by Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone.

She praised the First Minister for waiting until there was “a robust test, trace and isolate strategy in place” unlike “the reckless approach taken by the United Kingdom Government”.

However, Johnstone said if the Government had been using testing capacity “to its full potential throughout the pandemic, we would be better informed about the virus, better able to protect people, and able to move to the test, trace and isolate strategy at a faster pace”.

Sturgeon said MSPs would be “debating the issues around testing” and what the Government should have done and did not do “for a long time”.