Scots should take a Covid test every time they go out to meet someone from another household, Nicola Sturgeon has said after six cases of the omicron variant were identified in Scotland.
The First Minister warned that “this is a moment again for collective national vigilance” after the discovery of the cases, some of which are thought to involve community transmission in Scotland rather than foreign travel.
Although she said there was no evidence that transmission of the variant was sustained or widespread, she urged people to “test before you go” if they were “intending to socialise or mix with people from other households”.
Four cases of the variant were discovered in Lanarkshire and two in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, with the first test result dating from Nov 23. However, the Scottish government only became aware on Sunday that the omicron variant had been discovered.
Speaking at a press conference with Ms Sturgeon, Dr Gregor Smith, Scotland’s chief medical officer, warned that it would be “several weeks” before “clear, confident” answers could be provided about the risk posed by the new variant.
With case numbers expected to rise in the coming days, Ms Sturgeon said she “fervently” hoped she would have “a normal Christmas with my family” and was not yet asking people to put festive plans on hold.
But she admitted she was not 100 per cent sure that Scots would be allowed to proceed with plans as she wrote to Boris Johnson demanding more funding for business support if she decided to reimpose restrictions.
In a joint letter with Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, she told Mr Johnson that the Treasury should fund devolved government support schemes “in the event more interventionist measures are required to respond to the public health situation”.
They also called for a four nations Cobra meeting to be convened and for all international arrivals to self-isolate for eight days and take two PCR tests to check whether they have the new variant.
However, this was rejected by Downing Street, which said the plan for arrivals from 4am on Tuesday to take a PCR test by the end of their second day was “the proportionate one to the evidence that we currently have available about this variant”.
The six cases are self-isolating but not in hospital. Contact tracing was continuing to try to establish how they caught the variant and find others to whom they may have transmitted it.
Ms Sturgeon said there was no evidence of any link to the recent Cop26 summit in Glasgow, or the Scotland rugby team’s match at Murrayfield earlier this month with South Africa, the country in which the variant originated.
All close contacts of suspected omicron cases will be advised to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of whether they have had both jabs. Early indications are that the variant is more transmissible and more resistant to vaccines than the delta variant.
Ms Sturgeon said everyone had “slipped up” as restrictions eased in recent months on precautions such as hand-washing and mask-wearing, adding: “It is now time to step up on all of this. So at this stage, we are asking people – everyone across the country – to significantly step up and increase compliance with all existing precautions.”
She urged people to take regular lateral flow tests, adding: “So on any occasion that you are intending to socialise or mix with people from other households – whether that is in a pub, a restaurant, a house or even a shopping centre – please do an LFD test.”
Asked whether families should develop Christmas contingency plans in case restrictions are reimposed, she said: “I’m not asking you to change your plans. I know it’s three weeks to Christmas and none of us, including me, wanted to be in a position where I’m standing here again talking about a new variant that is posing risks.
“Individuals, human beings, will factor in contingencies into all sorts of plans they make and I’m sure there will be many who will be thinking about ‘if X happened, what will I do?'”