Scots should “stay at home more than normal” on New Year’s Eve, Nicola Sturgeon declared today.
The First Minister urged people to reduce contacts with people outside their households, and limit gatherings to three households or fewer, “over Hogmanay and New Year’s Day, and for at least the first week in January”.
She said while suggestions Omicron Covid is less severe than Delta were good news, it was prudent to “act to slow transmission at this stage as much as possible”.
Yet her comments risked being overshadowed by a row about whether Scots should cross the border to parties in England, where pubs and restaurants have almost no restrictions.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney today said he would “discourage” people from crossing the border for Hogmanay, saying: “I think it is the wrong course of action for people to take.
“Because we have a serious situation we have got to manage and we encourage everybody to play their part in addressing that.”
But Boris Johnson later insisted “everybody should enjoy New Year but in a cautious and sensible way” – while UK government minister Chloe Smith said people are “more than free to move around” the UK over the New Year.
Ms Smith told the BBC : “I think perhaps I should just add the obvious constitutional point here, which is that we are one country and people are more than free to move around inside our country under the general law, obviously.
“But also at this time in terms of any Covid restrictions, as I understand it, there are, of course, slightly different points of guidance and regulation operating in the different parts of the UK.
“Given the general point that I think people could hear from all of the administrations in the UK is that it’s time to be cautious, the best thing to do is to get boosted and to make use of lateral flow testing so that you can keep yourself healthier and, crucially, keep those around you, wherever you are, healthier and safer too.”
In a virtual update, Ms Sturgeon said 679 people are in hospital with Covid, a rise of 80 in a day, and Omicron now accounts for 80% of cases in the country. Some 36 people are in intensive care, one fewer than the day before.
She said: “It is encouraging that, at least until now, the rise in cases experienced over the past few weeks has not translated into a corresponding rise in hospital admissions or occupancy.
“On the contrary, the number of people in hospital with Covid has so far remained broadly stable.”
But Ms Sturgeon warned lower hospitalisations per case could be cancelled out by far higher case numbers as Omicron spreads so rapidly.
She said: “Over Hogmanay and New Year’s day, and for at least the first week in January, we are advising everyone to stay at home more than normal; to reduce contacts with people outside our own households; and to limit the size of any indoor social gatherings that do take place so that they don’t include people from any more than three households.”
“It also remains our advice that lateral flow tests should be taken just before meeting up with anyone from another household.”
She said restrictions on gatherings – including the shutting of nightclubs and table service only in pubs, with a metre between each table – will be in force until at least January 17.
And she said Scotland will decide in the next week whether to cut the minimum isolation time from 10 days to seven, like in England, if people test negative at the end of isolation. Any changes would take effect from January 5.
This breaking news story is being updated.