'New measures essential': Sturgeon defends Scotland's New Year's restrictions

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has explained Scotland's new Covid measures in the face of criticism from MSPs and the hospitality sector. Credit: PA Images

Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland's new Covid measures imposed over the New Year's period are "essential" amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

In a statement given to Scottish Parliament, the First Minister argued that imposing tighter restrictions than those south of the border is a proportional response to record case numbers.

She acknowledged the impact the new restrictions, imposed on Boxing Day, will have on the hospitality sector, but said they are essential to prevent more lasting damage to public health and the economy.

The restrictions impose capacity limitations on hospitality businesses, while advice has been issued on gathering with people from different households.

They have drawn criticism from Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and those working in the hospitality sector.

Scotland's new Covid restrictions:

  • A maximum of 500 people can attend outdoor events where physical distancing of one metre is in place

  • Indoor standing events are limited to 100 spectators, and indoor seated events to 200

  • For three weeks from January 27, pubs and other venues selling alcohol will also be required to offer table service only

  • Allowing staff to work from home is a legal responsibility for employers

Social distancing advice:

  • To stay at home more than normal.

  • Reduce contact with people outside own household.

  • Limit the size of indoor social gatherings to three households.

  • Ventilate indoor spaces.

  • Lateral flow before meeting up with anyone from other household. Isolate and book PCR if you have symptoms.

Ms Sturgeon said that despite there being "grounds for optimism" - due to hospitalisation admissions in Scotland remaining "broadly stable" and studies suggesting Omicron infection is less likely to lead to hospital - tighter restrictions are necessary until a "clearer picture" develops.

Scotland's latest Covid data (as of Wednesday 29 December):

Advice on social distancing is set to remain in place until the first week of January while hospitality restrictions are expected to last until 17 January.

"It is prudent, indeed I would say it is essential, that we act to slow transmission at this stage as much as possible," Ms Sturgeon said.

Defending restrictions likely to directly impact hospitality businesses through cancellations and reduced footfall, she added:

“The higher transmissibility of Omicron means large gatherings have a much higher potential to become super spreader.

She went on to say that allowing the virus to spread will be more detrimental to the nighttime economy in the long run, and highlighted the £375 million allocated to support affected businesses.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross called for changes to isolation rules, accusing Nicola Sturgeon of "indecision".

Citing a study that showed Omicron was more transmissible but the effects were "less severe", Mr Ross questioned why no decision had been made.

Following the First Minister's statement in which she said the Government was still considering easing isolation requirements for certain groups, Mr Ross said household contacts should be able to reduce isolation from 10 to seven days with two negative PCR tests.

Describing it as "one of the most important and actually one of the most difficult decisions we will take", Ms Sturgeon said she was being responsible by considering any changes to self-isolation rules in depth.

She added: "We are still taking a few more days because we have a very rapidly rising number of cases right now which is both a reason to do this, but also a reason to be cautious about doing it."