Nicola Sturgeon said there are grounds for “cautious optimism” in the fight against Covid-19, as she unveiled a new five-level system of restrictions for dealing with the virus.

The Scottish First Minister said the framework – which still has to be approved by Holyrood on Tuesday – “sensibly adds” to the three-tier set-up in place in England.

But unlike the English system, Scotland will have a lower level of restrictions which Ms Sturgeon described as being the “closest to normality we think we can safely get to” without a vaccine for coronavirus or more effective treatments.

There is also a level above the English Tier 3, which involves the tightest restrictions that would be closer to a full lockdown and close non-essential shops.

Schools should remain open under all tiers – which run from Level 0 to Level 4 – even under the toughest restrictions.

Ms Sturgeon outlined the plans at her daily coronavirus briefing, where she revealed 18 deaths and 1,401 positive cases have been recorded in the past 24 hours.

Although cases are still rising, she said: “The rate of increase appears to be slowing down and that does give us grounds for optimism, albeit it is still at this stage cautious optimism.”

The First Minister promised businesses in Scotland will get the same level of support as firms south of the border if they have to shut or are significantly affected by the restrictions.

But she warned that with the Scottish Government’s finite budget, the money for business support will eventually run out unless the Chancellor provides more funding or additional borrowing powers.

Speaking about support for businesses, Ms Sturgeon was frank: “The money the Scottish Government has to pay for these grants will eventually run out.

“When exactly that will happen of course will depend on demand, but it will happen. It is not possible to fund indefinitely demand led commitments out of a finite budget with no powers to borrow.”

Covid-19 tier restrictions in Scotland
(PA Graphics)

Meanwhile, discussions will take place with local authority leaders, public health chiefs and others before an announcement sometime next week on which level of restrictions will be imposed on each of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

These will then be reviewed on a weekly basis.

Ms Sturgeon said the multi-level system still enables a nationwide approach to be taken “if required”, saying it is “possible at some point that the whole country could be placed in the same level”.

But she added different levels mean “we don’t have to take a one-size-fits-all approach if that is not warranted”, so restrictions can be suited to each area’s level of infection.

The new system is expected to begin on Monday November 2, with temporary restrictions which have closed pubs and restaurants across central Scotland being in place until then.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We do not envisage returning to a situation as severe as the first lockdown imposed back in late March.

“We are not back at square one, we have made progress in tackling the virus and we have more tools at our disposal to help control it.”

But she said the sharp increase in Covid-19 cases over the last month means hospital admissions, those in intensive care and the number of deaths are “likely to continue to rise for some time yet”.

Responding to the new five-level framework, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “As this new tiered system comes into force, decisions need to be communicated without confusion and there needs to be a change of approach from the SNP if we’re going to protect Scottish jobs.

“Businesses must be consulted, crippling decisions can’t be forced on them at the last minute, and support must be available from the minute restrictions come into force.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said people need to know “how long they can expect to be under these restrictions”.

He added: “With the potential for different areas of the country to be under different regulations, there exists a real danger of confusion among the public, putting health at risk.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said there are “so many questions that need to be answered”.

He stressed: “This plan must offer people clarity on how their area can move between tiers. The public needs certainty that their sacrifices will make a difference and hope that if they comply their freedoms will be returned.”