Tougher coronavirus restrictions could be introduced in a matter of days after Nicola Sturgeon warned the country faces “hard but necessary” decisions to stop the virus growing out of control.
The first minister said there was a serious risk coronavirus “could get out of our grip again” and Scotland now appears to be on the same deadly trajectory as France, with cases rising “quite rapidly” – including among older people.
It is now seeing 10,000 new cases a day, with hundreds of people in intensive care and the number of deaths increasing, and Ms Sturgeon stressed tough choices would be needed to avoid a similar outcome in Scotland.
She said this weekend will be “critical” to how the government plots a new way forward, adding she wanted to give people “advanced notice” because the country faces as significant a moment as on the eve of the first lockdown in March.
Joining the First Minister today is National Clinical Director Jason Leitch. https://t.co/CKW0vNKgMP
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) September 18, 2020
The first minister stressed she was not anticipating a return to the same kind of drastic measures but was instead considering changes to avoid such tough restrictions.
Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said: “If we want to avoid another full-scale lockdown – which all of us do – doing nothing almost certainly isn’t an option.
“We have to consider now whether some national restrictions – we have national restrictions in place already, the six-two rule is a national restriction – do we need to have more national restriction?”
The first minister confirmed she had asked Boris Johnson to convene a Cobra meeting this weekend but could not say when she had last spoken directly to the prime minister, something she said “perhaps tells its own story”.
She said what is happening in England, where hospital admissions and ICU admissions are now also rising, should be seen as a “warning signal” for Scotland.
The latest Covid-19 figures for Scotland showed one more confirmed coronavirus patient had died, bringing the total number of deaths under that measure to 2,502. A total of 23,776 people had tested positive for coronavirus – up 203 from the day before.
The number of new tests coming back positive rose to 4.4%, up from 4% the day before and trending closer to the 5% danger level cited by the World Health Organisation.
Ms Sturgeon said action had to be taken to “interrupt that exponential growth” and likened the coming changes to a “circuit breaker” or “fire break”.
“No-one wants to see another full-scale lockdown,” she said. “And, above all, we want to keep schools and childcare open because we know how important that is to the education and to the broader wellbeing of children and young people.
“We are seeing increasing numbers of places both here in Scotland and across the rest of the UK that are under local and regional restrictions.
“The bottom line here is that this virus is on the rise again. Our case numbers are not yet rising as fast as they were back in March but they are rising again and they are rising quite rapidly.”
The SNP leader urged people to follow all of the current rules and advice “rigorously” this weekend, adding that it will be “critical” in the assessment of how best to interrupt and break the growth of the virus.
She advised people to avoid travelling to parts of the UK that are under tougher restrictions, as well as avoiding non-essential travel abroad, and to also “think carefully about non-essential travel at home”.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said every option must be considered when it comes to getting on top of the virus.
He said: “We have seen the issues that we have if we don’t get on top of it, and if we don’t make the difficult decisions to reimpose some restrictions
“So everything that has to be done must be done to ensure we don’t get a second wave of this pandemic that puts pressure on our hospitals and our NHS again.
“I support everything that can be done to support beating this terrible pandemic.”