Omicron Covid: ‘Tsunami of cases starting to hit Scotland’

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says 51.4% of cases are likely to be the new variant with number set to 'accelerate'.

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Omicron is now the dominant strain of coronavirus in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

She told a briefing that 51.4% of cases in the country were likely to be the new variant, as she revealed that a further seven coronavirus deaths and 4336 cases were recorded in the past 24 hours.

However, she warned that due to the volume of tests being processed, the number of cases could be higher.

Sturgeon said: “Omicron now has replaced Delta as the dominant Covid strain circulating in Scotland and that presents a challenge because we know Omicron is significantly more transmissable than Delta.

“It has an R number (average number of people infected by each case) that is possibly above four and, therefore it is driving, and the bigger the proportion of cases that are Omicron, the more it risks driving a much steeper increase in cases overall.

“The tsunami I warned about a week ago is now starting to hit us.

“If we don’t act now, what we have feared all along since the very start of this pandemic but so far have managed to avoid, the overwhelming of the NHS, could happen.

“That is one very important reason why slowing this down matters so much.”

She went on to say the issue was not one for just the health service, saying the number of people having to isolate after testing positive is “already putting a significant strain on the economy and on other critical services”.

The First Minister said: “As people become infected we lose drivers for trains, we lose teachers from classrooms, we lose nurses from hospital wards and workers  from businesses the length and breadth of the country.”

New guidance

Sturgeon was speaking as new coronavirus guidance for workplaces and businesses was introduced across Scotland on Friday.

Under the guidance, businesses will be legally required to take reasonable measures to minimise transmission of coronavirus.

Advice includes a return to one-way systems in premises, app-based ordering and the use of screens at service points.

The hospitality sector has been encouraged to return to table service where practical and to consider measures to reduce crowding.

Businesses have also been asked to consider a ticketing system during peak festive opening hours where appropriate, according to the latest advice.

By law in Scotland, everyone over the age of 12 must wear face coverings indoors, unless exempt, and the new guidance stressed masks should be worn inside all businesses.

‘Please stay at home’

Sturgeon directly appealed to Scots on Thursday to “please stay at home much more than you normally would” in the run-up to Christmas.

She told MSPs she was “profoundly concerned” by the scale of the challenge posed by the Omicron variant of coronavirus sweeping the country.

The daily test positivity rate on Thursday was 10.1%, down from 10.8% the previous day.

There were 522 people in hospital with recently confirmed Covid-19, down ten on the day before, with 33 in intensive care, down one.

The Covid-19 death toll in Scotland under the daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – now stands at 9771.

Opposition reaction

Scottish Labour’s health and Covid recovery spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “There is no doubting the level of concern this variant is causing across the board.   

“It has reached every part of Scotland, and is moving exponentially – there is clearly no room for complacency.

“If it does spread at this rate, staff absences alone will wreak havoc with essential services. We all have a role to play – by getting our boosters, taking lateral flow tests, and using our judgement. 

“Thousands of businesses are already feeling the effects of this advice, and we need to make sure they get the support they need. The Scottish and the UK governments need to put politics aside and work together to save lives and livelihoods.”