Nicola Sturgeon has urged people across Scotland to limit social mixing to three households before and after Christmas to help combat the omicron coronavirus variant.
In a statement at the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish First Minister warned that omicron cases were “increasing exponentially – faster than any variant that has gone before it”.
She said she believed speeding up the vaccine booster programme “will not be sufficient” and that further restrictions were now required to stop the spread of the virus.
She stressed she was “not asking anyone to cancel Christmas”, but advised people to limit their socialising either side of the holiday.
Setting out the guidance, Ms Sturgeon said: “Turning to Christmas Day specifically, or Christmas Eve or Boxing Day or whenever you have your main family celebration, we are not asking you to cancel or change your plans, and we are not proposing limits on the size of household gatherings.”
She added: “My key request today is this: before and immediately after Christmas, please minimise your social mixing with other households as much as you can.
“However, if you do plan on socialising, either at home or in indoor public places, we are asking that you limit the number of households represented in your group to a maximum of three. And make sure you test before you go.”
Laws on working from home
While the advice to limit social gatherings to a maximum of three households will not be enforceable in law, Ms Sturgeon announced that allowing staff to work from home where possible would again become a legal duty on employers.
Other announcements for businesses included “a return to the kind of protections in place at the start of the pandemic” to avoid crowding, such as physical distancing and table service in bars.
Care home visits should also be limited to two households, with all visitors asked to take a coronavirus test before attending. This follows guidance for care home staff to take daily lateral flow tests.
However, she urged schools to remain open “if at all possible” to limit any further disruption to pupils’ education, and said there would be new guidance issued later in the week.
‘Dominant strain within days’
Warning that the booster campaign must now be rolled out “even faster”, Ms Sturgeon said: “Just as vaccines started to win this race, the virus learned to run faster.
“This is all the more important in light of early data telling us that the protection we have against omicron infection with just one or two doses is significantly lower than it is for delta, we need a booster jab to ensure a substantial level of protection against omicron. So we are taking steps now to get boosters into arms faster.
“Getting fully vaccinated is the best thing any of us can do to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and the country. So please, book your booster jag as soon as possible.”
Ms Sturgeon warned that omicron is expected to become the dominant strain in Scotland in a matter of days, with the R rate for the variant now easily surpassing 2.
“We expect it to become the dominant strain within days,” she said. “This matters because omicron is significantly more transmissible than delta; the R number associated with delta is around 1 but the R number for omicron appears to be well over 2 and possibly above 4.
“Cases in Scotland in total have increased by a quarter in the last week, they have risen in all age groups, except the over 85s. Omicron is already contributing to that increase.
“But as it becomes the dominant strain, its much higher R number will also dominate, and that will drive a much steeper increase in cases.”
Warning that people “must take omicron extremely seriously”, Ms Sturgeon said it was “not a choice between protecting health and protecting the economy”.
She added that it was “not acceptable” that the Scottish Government had not received additional funding from the UK Government to combat the variant.
“There are further steps we could and would have considered today, particularly around hospitality, had we the financial ability to do so. But we don’t,” she said.
“However, I can confirm that with some considerable difficulty, we have managed to identify within our own resources around £100 million that we will use to help businesses, mainly those in hospitality and food supply, affected by our advice last week on work Christmas parties and further affected by what I have said today.”