Swathes of north east Scotland could be forced into near-lockdown measures regardless of the number of cases it records, the First Minister has admitted.
Nicola Sturgeon said she would not be able to “ignore” offers of support from the UK Government that could place Scotland under stricter coronavirus restrictions.
Scotland’s devolved government has set a five-level system, ranging from tiers zero to four, of restrictions, with parts of the country currently sitting within level two including Aberdeen, Angus, Perth and Kinross, Fife and Aberdeenshire
Dundee and the central belt are currently subject to level three measures, which among other things prohibits the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants but does allow cafes, eateries and shops to stay open, under restricted terms.
Local authority areas including Highlands, Moray, Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland — which are currently at level one, allowing for more business to remain open — could now be forced into the harshest restrictions of level four.
So far no council area is subject to level four restrictions, but this could be subject to change by the end of this week.
Will not be ruled out
At her daily press briefing, Ms Sturgeon said Scotland “could not be blind” to what is happening south of the border, after the UK Government announced an extension to the furlough scheme in England as well as increased Covid-19 restrictions.
Along with leaders of the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales, Ms Sturgeon met the UK Government on Monday morning.
Ms Sturgeon said as a result of that meeting, furlough support may only be forthcoming while England was in stricter measures.
During a debate at Westminster, Prime Minister Boris Johnson would only repeat the “scheme is UK-wide and will continue to apply in Scotland”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I made clear last week, when I set out the levels that would apply initially, that we might yet have to go further and that we can’t rule out – and shouldn’t rule out – a move to level four for all or parts of the country.
“And while that decision would never be easy, there is no doubt that the availability of a more extensive furlough scheme of the kind that the Prime Minister announced on Saturday would make it slightly less difficult because workers would have more of their wages paid.
“The decision we have to weigh up in coming days is this one – should we take the opportunity of more generous financial support to step harder on the brakes now, to try to drive infection rates down faster and more firmly?
“The potential benefit of that would be suppressing Covid further and faster, at a time when financial support is available and possibly – I don’t want to overstate this – but possibly opening up a bit more breathing space over the Christmas period.
“At this stage, the indication is that the more generous funding scheme is only going to be available for the next month, during the period of England’s lockdown.”
Scottish Labour Leader, Richard Leonard, has called on the First Minister to launch an emergency “Goodwill Summit to save Christmas”.
“It’s very welcome news that leaders from across the UK will work together on a plan for Christmas, as we need to give people hope after nearly eight months of restrictions and Covid-related hardship,” he said.
“There are real concerns about loneliness and isolation for many Scots, particularly among senior citizens and other vulnerable adults.
“With more restrictions coming into force this week and endless speculation about people being told they face a digital Christmas, we need to offer families more help than that.
“I want to put party differences aside and work with other parties at Holyrood, public health experts, charities, and the police to resolve this issue as soon as possible and get a workable plan.
“We need a Goodwill Summit, where we work with each other, to ensure that families can spend some time at Christmas together in a safe environment.
“If Nicola Sturgeon calls this summit, as Scottish Labour Leader I can promise the First Minister that as a party we will constructively engage and work closely with her and others of goodwill to do everything we can to save Christmas for the people of Scotland.
“This could then be fed into the UK process.”
Rise in test positivity rate
Scotland recorded 951 positive coronavirus tests in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 66,012, with a daily test positivity rate of 9.6%, up from 7% on Sunday.
Of the new cases, 385 are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 268 in Lanarkshire, 76 in Ayrshire and Arran and 69 in Lothian.
No coronavirus deaths have been recorded in the past 24 hours but Ms Sturgeon warned this figure should be treated with caution as registry offices are largely closed on Sundays.
The death toll under this measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – remains at 2,849.
Ms Sturgeon said there are 1,225 people in hospital confirmed to have the virus, up by 32 in 24 hours.
Of these patients, 93 are in intensive care, a rise of 12.