Scots should stay in their own homes at Christmas, Nicola Sturgeon has urged.
If people feel it is “essential” to meet with others indoors, she said this should be for one day only and not overnight.
The First Minister has strengthened the guidance for people celebrating Christmas across Scotland following the relaxing of restrictions.
The published advice urges people to celebrate in their own household and keep any interaction with other households to a minimum.
Sturgeon stressed that anyone choosing to spend time with other households indoors should keep the duration of any interaction as short as possible; keep any bubble as small as possible; avoid travel and overnight stays unless unavoidable; and comply with all distancing and hygiene advice.
She said: “Our strong advice this Christmas is to stay at home with your own household.
“Any interaction with other households should, as far as possible, be outdoors.
“That is the best way of keeping yourself and your loved ones safe this Christmas.
“However, we recognise that in some cases, the isolation caused by being alone over Christmas will in itself cause harm to people’s welfare and that is why we have created a window of flexibility with accompanying guidance, to ensure that any household mixing is done as safely as possible.
“If you choose to form a bubble over the Christmas period, then you should take into consideration these key points.
“First, minimise the number of people in the bubble – while three households is the legal maximum, our recommendation is that two households would be better, and you should keep as far within the maximum of eight people over the age of 12 as you can. In short, the smaller the bubble is, the better and safer it will be.
“Second, you should minimise the time spent with your bubble, especially indoors. The five days is a window of opportunity, not a recommended time that it is safe for you to spend together – indeed, the Scottish Government recommends that you do not meet up with people in your bubble on any more than one day over the period and do not stay overnight unless it is unavoidable. And you should minimise the distance you intend to travel.
“You should also avoid all travel between high prevalence areas and low prevalence areas – in particular, that means avoiding travel to or from Scotland and tier three areas in England, and to or from any level four areas in Scotland (of which there are currently none).”
The First Minister added: “Being asked not to see loved ones at Christmas unless absolutely essential is one of the toughest things imaginable.
“But, this year, it is essential to help keep people safe.
“With a vaccination programme now underway, a return to more normal life is on the horizon – and I hope that the prospect of brighter days ahead will help all of us get through this difficult Christmas as safely as possible.”
The UK, Scottish and Welsh governments have issued a joint statement insisting this “cannot be a normal Christmas”, as they call on people to think carefully about forming bubbles for the festive period.
The statement said: “A smaller Christmas is a safer Christmas, and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas. The safest way to spend this Christmas is with your own household or your existing support bubble in your own home – and we strongly recommend that this is what you do if at all possible.”
It added: “To protect you and your loved ones, we recommend that you think very carefully about the risks of forming a bubble. Discuss alternatives to meeting up in person, or ways of meeting up outdoors instead. Only form a bubble if you feel you absolutely need to.
“If you do decide you need to form a Christmas bubble, take precautions to minimise risk by stopping unnecessary social contact outside your immediate household as soon as possible, and for at least five days before you meet other households in your bubble, and by working from home if you can.
“On no account should you visit another household if you, or anyone in your household, is feeling unwell or is self-isolating.”
Earlier on Wednesday Sturgeon said governments across the UK do “not intend to take away the flexibility” over Christmas, where coronavirus restrictions have been relaxed to allow up to eight people from three households to meet between December 23 and 27.
The First Minister told the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing: “That in my view wouldn’t be fair at this stage and wouldn’t be realistic either and may risk undermining, rather than strengthening, compliance with the overall Covid guidance.”
Scotland recorded 689 new cases in the past 24 hours, she announced, and 38 deaths of people who first tested positive for the virus in the previous 28 days, taking this total to 4,173.
Sturgeon also highlighted other figures published on Wednesday indicating 6092 people in Scotland have died with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 as of Sunday.
Dr Lewis Morrison, chairman of BMA Scotland, said: “The relaxation of rules should be seen as the absolute maximum of what you should be looking to do over Christmas.
“While the rules themselves may not be changing, there is still plenty of chance to consider your plans and either adjust them in line with advice or stick to the limited plans you had in place.
“The decisions we all make will have direct consequences on how large a rise in cases we see in January, and as a result how our NHS is able to cope.”