Coronavirus (COVID-19): Protection levels

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As of 9 August 2021, the legal requirement for physical distancing and limits on gatherings will be removed. The Scottish Government have provided guidance on what this means: Coronavirus (COVID-19): staying safe and protecting others. This blog will no longer be updated, unless the levels system returns.

In February 2021, the Scottish Government published an updated COVID-19 Strategic Framework. This outlines its approach to protective levels and the conditions for easing restrictions. This blog provides a high-level summary of the protection levels and the current restrictions across Scotland, together with some maps and charts to aid understanding for MSPs and their constituents.

What do the protection levels mean?

The Scottish Government has outlined a five-level approach, which is intended to allow restrictions based on specific indicators for an area, instead of a ‘one size fits all’ national approach. The five protection levels start at level 0, which is Phase 3 of the Scottish Government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) route map.

There are four levels above this which each contain a number of restrictions across a range of areas including socialising, hospitality, accommodation, travel, retail, education and leisure, which are intended to suppress the virus.

Level 0 (baseline) and Level 1

Low incidence of the virus with isolated clusters and low community transmission.

These levels still include some restrictions but are considered to be the closest to normality that will be possible without a vaccine or effective treatment in place.

Levels 2-3

Increased incidence of the virus with multiple clusters and increased community transmission.

Under these levels, there will be several measures focusing on potential areas of risk. This includes indoor settings where household mixing takes place with less, or less well-observed, physical distancing and mitigations. The measures would be intended to be in place for relatively short periods (2-4 weeks), and only for as long as required to get the virus down to a low, sustainable level.

Level 4

Very high or rapidly increasing incidence and widespread community transmission which may pose a threat to the NHS to cope.

This level will see the introduction of measures close to a return to full lockdown

The following table shows the restrictions on socialising in each level. More information on the Protection Levels Framework can be found on the Scottish Government website.

Indoors – in public
Indoors – households
Level 0
10 people from up to 4 households
8 people from 4 households
15 people from 15 households
Level 1
8 people from up to 3 households
6 people from 3 households
12 people from 12 households
Level 2
6 people from up to 3 households
6 people from 3 households
8 people from 8 households outdoors and in public place
Level 3
6 people from up to 2 households
No in-home socialising
6 people from 6 households outdoors and in public place
Level 4
4 people from up to 2 households
No in-home socialising
4 people from 2 households outdoors and in public place

What do the current protection levels look like across Scotland?

The Scottish Government set the initial levels for each local authority area on 29 October 2020. It has since reviewed the indicators it uses to determine protection levels.

When making decisions about protection levels the Scottish Government uses five core indicators alongside secondary indicators and broader considerations. The core indicators are:

  • Weekly new positive cases per 100,000 people
  • Percentage of tests that are positive over the past week
  • Projected weekly cases per 100,000 people
  • Projected Covid Hospital Demand
  • Projected Covid Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Demand

The levels will be reviewed regularly based on the latest evidence and a decision will be made on whether to maintain, increase, or reduce the level of an area.

Latest announced change to protection levels

Key changes from 19 July 2021:

  • All areas move to level 0 on 19 July 2021.

Latest update: 19 July 2021

Protection level by local authority area in Scotland, 19 July

How have the protection levels changed? 

The following interactive chart tracks how protection levels have changed in Scotland. It is based on what the protection level was at on Friday of each week, apart from the first week which uses the date that the protections level first came into effect. 

Tips on using the tool:

  • You can click on a protection level in the legend above the chart and this will remove all areas on that level.
  • You can double click on a protection level in the legend above the chart and this will highlight all areas on that level. Double click again to reset.

Updated: 9 August 2021

Change in protection levels

Between January and May most local authority areas where in level 4. As of 9 August all areas have moved to beyond level 0.

The following table shows the threshold the Scottish Government uses for these two indicators and compares it to the WHO range. More information can be found in Coronavirus (COVID-19): Strategic Framework update - February 2021.

You can find more information on the latest data on testing, hospital admissions and deaths in Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Scotland – latest data.

Weekly cases/100k
Test positivity
Level 0
Close to 0
Close to 0
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4

Andrew Aiton, Data Visualisation Manager

Featured image: "19960528 01 Scotland Map" by davidwilson1949 is licensed under CC BY 2.0