First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has outlined further restrictions to combat the spread of the Omicron variant over the Christmas and New Year period.
Sturgeon told MSPs she “was not asking anyone to cancel Christmas” but asked people to reduce the amount of contact they have with other households in the run-up to and the immediate aftermath of December 25.
She said household mixing will not be banned in law, unlike in previous lockdowns earlier in the pandemic, due to the negative impact this has on mental health and wellbeing.
Omicron is expected to become the dominant strain of coronavirus in Scotland within days. Sturgeon said cases are “increasing exponentially – faster than any variant that has gone before it”.
The key points in the First Minister’s update to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday are below and the full speech is available here:
Before and immediately after Christmas, people should minimise social mixing with other households as much as possible.
Those who do intend to socialise with others at home or inside a public place should limit the gathering to three households and take a test before they go.
Speaking about Christmas Day in particular, Sturgeon said the Scottish Government is not asking people to change their plans, as well as not proposing limits on the size of household gatherings.
Restrictions on household numbers, therefore, do not apply on the day people enjoy their main celebration, including on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve or Boxing Day.
Places of worship will also remain open.
Mitigations will be issued, however, to ensure people can have a safe Christmas – including by reducing contacts in advance of December 25 and in the days afterward, keeping celebrations as small as family circumstances allow, ensuring everyone in your gathering is vaccinated has done a test in advance.
People should also keep their houses ventilated and follow strict hygiene rules.
WORK AND ECONOMY:
Business will remain open but have been urged to ramp up the protections already in place. Regulations will be amended to put a legal requirement on those running businesses providing services to take measures that are “reasonably practicable to minimise the risk of transmission”.
In retail, that will include physical distancing requirements, measures to control the flow of customers – such as one-way systems – and protective screens.
For hospitality, it will mean measures to avoid crowding at bars and between tables and a reminder to collect customers’ details as part of contact tracing requirements.
Guidance to enable staff who were working from home at the start of the pandemic to do so again will be made into law.
People who can’t do their jobs at home are being urged to test regularly before going to work.
The First Minister said many of the protections required to curtail Covid come at a financial cost to individuals and businesses.
She said: “Because the UK Government is at this stage not proposing any further protections – a position I do not agree with – there is no funding generated to compensate businesses for any protections we think are necessary and wish to put in place.
“That is not acceptable in current circumstances and with the Welsh and Northern Irish governments we are pressing for a fairer approach that takes account of our devolved responsibilities for protecting public health.”
Sturgeon said Scotland’s public health response is “curtailed” by the current situation, adding there are other steps the Scottish Government would have considered, particularly around hospitality, had it the financial ability to do so.
But she said £100m of the Scottish Government’s own resources that will be used to help businesses – mainly those in hospitality, food supply and in the culture sector – affected by advice around deferring Christmas parties and the new guidance outlined on Tuesday.
A further £100m will be used to ensure the self-isolation support grant is available for those who need it, given the expected increase in the amount of people who will be asked to self-isolate in the coming weeks.
As the First Minister addressed the chamber, the Treasury said the UK would make additional funds available to the devolved administrations to “provide greater certainty and allow them to plan as they tackle Covid-19 during the crucial weeks ahead”.
Sturgeon, however, said: “While any financial support in the face of the pandemic, and the emergence of the Omicron variant, is welcome, today’s announcement from the Treasury does not appear to amount to any additional funding.
“Instead, it merely advances money which Scotland would be due in any case from expected Barnett consequentials already budgeted for – with the stipulation that we would need to pay back anything received over and above the final Barnett amount.
“That’s not additional funding. That’s just classic Treasury smoke and mirrors.”
The First Minister said it is the Scottish Government’s intention that everyone over 18 will have been able to book a booster appointment by Hogmanay.
“It is not possible to guarantee everyone over 18 will have been vaccinated by December 31,” she said. “For a variety of reasons, some appointments will run into the new year.
“For example, some people will not be eligible by the end of December because it will still be less than 12 weeks since their second dose. Some people have not yet come forward for a first or second dose, and despite our best efforts some will not come forward to book a booster either.”
Sturgeon also said some capacity challenges are “inevitable” such as vaccinator staff absences due to Covid. Regardless, the Scottish Government is aiming to reach as close as possible to 80% uptake by the end of December, with the balance of appointments taking place in January.
All over 18s should be able to book appointments online from Wednesday.
The Scottish Government is now recommending that individual visits in care homes should not involve any more than two households visiting any patient at a time and people should test before every visit.
For hospitals, the recommendation is no more than two people visit a patient at any one time and a lateral flow test is advised before each visit.