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Nicola Sturgeon asks Scots to limit socialising but stresses ‘Christmas isn’t cancelled’

Nicola Sturgeon speaking in the Scottish Parliament today.

Nicola Sturgeon has asked Scots to limit contact to just three households before and after Christmas as she warns Omicron is spreading faster than any other variant.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament today, the First Minister warned cases of the new Covid-19 strain are increasing “exponentially”.

Ms Sturgeon stressed though she is “not asking anyone to cancel Christmas” and the measures are not a legal requirement.

Limit social interactions

The advice is that people should limit social interactions as much as they can before and after family celebrations on or around December 25.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We are not banning or restricting household mixing in law as before. We understand the negative impact this has on mental health and wellbeing.

“But we are asking people to cut down as much as possible the number of people outside our own households that we are interacting with just now.

“This will help break transmission chains.”

On Christmas Day itself, she said the government is not proposing any limits whatsoever on the number of households attending.

Places of worship will also remain open with “appropriate mitigations”, she said.

Tightening of rules for hospitality and retail

The First Minister did however announce new legally-enforceable measures on businesses.

Pubs will need to enforce social distancing.

Shops have been told to bring back social distancing, as was the case at the start of the pandemic, while pubs must put in place measures to avoid crowding.

This could mean customers being required to order from tables again.

It is also now a legal duty for all employers to enable those who were working from home at the start of the pandemic, to do so again.

More guidance on all the measures required will be released later this week.

News ‘not what anyone wants to hear’

Ms Sturgeon added: “Let me be clear, we do not do this lightly. I know how hard it is.

“Please believe me when I say I would not be asking for yet more sacrifice if I did not genuinely consider this to be necessary in the face of a threat that is very real.”

The First Minister said she understands the news is “not what anyone wants to hear”, particularly in the run up to Christmas but that the risk from Omicron is “clear”.

The number of Omicron Covid cases in Scotland is now at 296 with 110 new cases reported today.

The latest update shows four new cases have been reported in Tayside — bringing the total to five — and one new case in Fife, with the total there now two.

A tightening of the rules had been expected today after Humza Yousaf warned yesterday more restrictions were “inevitable”.

Lack of funding

Ms Sturgeon added Scotland’s response to the threat of Omicron is currently limited because the UK government has not yet made further funding available.

She said it “could be argued that we should be going further” in introducing restrictions in Scotland but that this is not possible without more money.

“Many of the protections that help curtail Covid come at a financial cost to individuals and businesses,” she said.

“Wherever we can, we put in place financial packages to protect people’s health, jobs and livelihoods.

“Because the UK Government is, at this stage, not proposing any further protections — a position I do not agree with — there is no funding generated to compensate businesses for any protections we think are necessary.

“That is not acceptable in current circumstances and, with the Welsh and Northern Irish governments, we are pressing for a fairer approach.

“For now, this is the situation we are in and it means our public health approach is curtailed by lack of finance.”

£100m funding

A funding package of £100 million was announced for the hospitality, wholesale and supply chain sectors affected by recent guidance in Scotland.

Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, welcomed the news but stressed it will “not go anywhere near far enough.”

She said: “What Scotland’s businesses need now is an extension of at least the 50% Covid-19 rates relief, beyond the three months set out in the Scottish budget and guaranteed for the next financial year, in full.

“With these additional restrictions now in place, extended rates relief will be critical to giving thousands of Scottish businesses a shot at survival.

“The UK Government must also step in quickly with further details of what funding provision will be made available for devolved administrations to support businesses, given the tough economic challenges.”