Scots 'stay at home' advice could become law as fears grow over new Covid strain
Scots have been told to stay at home when post-Christmas Covid-19 restrictions come into force – with a warning this could become law to suppress rising cases of the virus.
Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs today that a tougher regime of lockdown measures is now being considered after virus cases rose by 15 per cent across Scotland in the past fortnight, amid concerns over a new strain of Covid-19 which is "out of control" south of the border.
The First Minister insisted that the tough new measures were "absolutely necessary" despite the fact that the prevalence of the virus in Scotland is way below the rate in England and Wales, and lockdown rules could be tightened further to avoid an exponential rise in cases which would swamp the NHS.
Analysis suggests in the week beginning December 9 around 14 per cent of positive coronavirus cases in Scotland already had a gene linked to the new variant. That is up from five per cent at the end of November - with the First Minister saying it was "not unreasonable to assume that the proportion may be higher now".
There is still no evidence that the new new variant is any more virulent than previous strains or that it will not respond to vaccines – but it is up to 70 per cent more contagious.
New measures announced on Saturday will mean that families can only get together on Christmas Day before the whole of mainland Scotland is placed under Level 4 restrictions for at least three weeks. The islands will go into Level 3 for this period.
The First Minister said: “For those living in level four areas, which from Saturday will be the vast majority of us, our strong advice is to stay as local as possible and to stay at home as much as possible.
“And we will be considering in the days ahead, whether we need to place that advice in law.”
As more information on the new strain new strain emerges, consideration will be given on whether the top level - Level 4 - needs to be strengthened.
"It seems that we are facing a virus that spreads much faster now than in March, so we need to consider whether the current Level 4 restrictions will be sufficient to suppress it."
As part of this, plans to resume in-class teaching for all pupils by January 18 will be kept under review.
There have been 43 deaths of coronavirus patients, the latest figures have shown, and 1,316 new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours.
Further changes to this level include homeware shop and garden centres being restricted to click and collect opening. Outdoor centres had been allowed to remain open under previous Level 4 restrictions, but this will now change.
"Given the severity of the situation we face and the need to limit interactions as much as possible, we intend to define essential retail more narrowly than we have done recently," Ms Sturgeon said.
"In short, that means homeware stores and garden centres will be classed as non essential and will therefore require to close, with the exception of click and collect."
Numbers in Scotland had been stabilising in recent weeks, but have began rising recently. But the prevalence of the virus in Scotland is lower than elsewhere in the UK, with 116 new cases per 100,000 north of the border - half the prevalence of England and one fifth of that in Wales.
Ms Sturgeon said these figures alone would not be enough to justify the post-Christmas restrictions, but the emergence of the new variant has changed the situation.
"I know many people may question if these measures are strictly necessary, especially given Scotland’s relatively low level of prevalence, compared to other parts of the UK," Ms Sturgeon added.
"My firm judgment is that they are necessary.
“They are not simply as a response to our current situation, but necessary precautionary measures to avoid a significant deterioration in our situation, caused by this new strain, over the next few weeks.
"In short, these measures are necessary to protect our NHS and save lives.”
The First Minister stressed Scotland’s position is "still a significantly lower level than England, where it is thought that the new variant accounts for 36 per cent of cases, and will be even higher in London and the South East".
Ms Sturgeon said: "The very rapid spread in London and the South East serves as a warning of what we will face here if we do not take firm action to suppress the virus.
"We have a real concern that, without significant counter measures, we could be facing another period of exponential growth as we enter the new year.
"That would mean many more people catching Covid and, even without this new strain causing more severe illness, that would result in many more people needing hospital and intensive care. That would put an enormous strain on the NHS and lead to much more loss of life. To be blunt, that is what we have to act now to stop."
She added: "That is why we announced significant additional measures on Saturday.
"I know how tough these are, but we believe they are essential to avoid an extremely serious deterioration in the situation as we move into the New Year."
The daily test positivity rate is 7.5 per cent, up from 6 per cent on Monday and the number of people who have tested positive since the start of the pandemic is 114,366.
There are 1,045 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, a fall of 33 in 24 hours. Of these patients, 60 are in intensive care, down by one.
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