Scotland is to enter full lockdown once again, with measures at their strictest since spring 2020, in response to surging coronavirus case numbers.
A legally-enforceable ‘stay at home’ rule will come into place across “level four” areas of the country from midnight on Monday and stay in place throughout all of January.
Schools will remain closed to all except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils until at least February 1. This will be reviewed in mid-January.
Strict “tier four” measures came into place across mainland Scotland on Boxing Day and were expected to last for an initial period of three weeks in response to a rapidly-spreading new variant of Covid-19.
However speaking in the Scottish Parliament on Monday afternoon, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed even stricter measures will be coming into place across the nation from midnight.
She said the measures are necessary as the vaccine roll-out programme continues across Scotland and the wider UK.
She said: “We have decided to introduce, from midnight tonight for the duration of January, a legal requirement to stay at home except for essential purposes, similar to the lockdown of March last year.”
During the first 2020 lockdown, stringent limits were put in place in March which meant people could only leave their homes to shop for “permissable reasons” such as essential shopping, daily exercise, to travel for key work, or for medical purposes or care-giving.
These rules will be in place once again. However, unlike during the first lockdown, outdoor exercise will be allowed more than once a day.
Fresh guidance is being issued to those in the shielding category, who are being advised not to go into work.
Outdoor gatherings – which were limited to six people from two households – have been restricted even further to just two people from two households. This does not apply to children aged 11 and under.
Ms Sturgeon also said businesses should “consider operations again” during the lockdown. Huge numbers of shops and close contact services – including hairdressers and salons – have already been forced to close.
More non-essential services including ski centres, showrooms and clinics will have to close.
Grants will be available for businesses being forced to close in addition to the support available through the UK furlough scheme.
Travel restrictions in force across Scotland’s tier four areas, which bans non-essential travel between councils, will remain in place.
From Friday, places of worship will also have to shut. Funerals can be attended by up to 20 people, however no wakes can take place.
Only five attendees will be allowed at wedding and civil partnership services.
Announcing the closure of all Scotland’s secondary, primary and nursery schools – which were initially only due to shut until January 18 – Ms Sturgeon said this decision was “the most difficult of all”.
She added: “I want to be clear that it remains our priority to get school buildings open again for all pupils as quickly as possible and then keep them open.”
The First Minister said these closures were necessary as community transmission is “too high” in Scotland to justify keeping them open.
She added that “uncertainty” around the impact of the mutant strain of coronavirus on youngsters was also a factor in the school closures decision.
The Scottish Government will later this week decide whether further changes to plans for a “staggered” return of schools and colleges are required.
Ms Sturgeon said there will be “significantly increased pressure” on NHS Scotland in January due to the rise in cases and that the country needs to act “quickly and decisively”.
She said the situation in Scotland is about four weeks behind London.