Jason Leitch has indicated the country is “in the foothills” of a massive wave of coronavirus cases sparked by the Omicron variant.
Scotland’s national clinical director warned of a “public health crisis” as he explained that the latest variant is more transmissible than previous ones.
Speaking on the STV News at Six, Leitch expressed sympathy for businesses impacted by people being told to minimise contact with others outside their households.
Hospitality businesses have expressed concerns over the financial impact on their futures with cancellations over the festive period.
“This is a public health crisis. We have a fourth new variant, it is accelerating, it is doubling faster than any of its predecessors and it is now more than half of the positive cases in Scotland,” said Leitch.
“So my job, I’m afraid, is to give the best advice I can for that public health crisis.
“Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t have empathy and sympathy for business owners and others, and you heard the First Minister today with those challenges.
“With financial challenges, economic challenges, which are of course also public health challenges.
“I don’t want anybody to lose their business or lose their job. But, this virus is coming.
“It is here, we’re in the foothills of a massive wave probably of this Omicron variant and we don’t fully understand it, so that’s why we’ve got to all be cautious.”
Leitch indicated that there will be a rise in the number of Omicron cases.
He said of the variant: “We now know for sure it’s more transmissible, we think it’s probably slightly less severe but remember, two weeks doesn’t get you enough hospitalisations because two weeks ago we only had one case.
“So we need more and more cases across Europe until we can answer the question about how many go to hospital.
“We know with Delta, every thousand people is about 20 to 30 in hospital, and fewer deaths than that.
“But, we don’t know what that number is for Omicron. It would have to be so, so low for us not to worry.
“It’s not going to be as low as that because the thousand cases is going to become 5000, and 10,000 with Omicron much faster than it would with Delta, so that’s why you hear the worry in our voices.”
Asked if parents should be sending their kids to school, he said: “Yes, they should.
“Schools should be the last thing to close and the first thing to open. Schools are so important, not just educationally, but also from a public health perspective.
“They help mental health, they help kids and young people.”
He added: “We’ve got to keep them open as safely as we possibly can.
“And with the mitigations in place, with the testing and the self-isolation for positive cases and for contacts, we believe as public health advisers it is still safe to keep them open.”