People in Scotland should limit socialising to just three households amid rising cases of the Omicron variant, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
Setting out the guidance, Ms Sturgeon said: “Turning to Christmas Day specifically, or Christmas Eve or Boxing Day or whenever you have your main family celebration, we are not asking you to cancel or change your plans, and we are not proposing limits on the size of household gatherings.”
She added: “My key request today is this: before and immediately after Christmas, please minimise your social mixing with other households as much as you can.
“However, if you do plan on socialising, either at home or in indoor public places, we are asking that you limit the number of households represented in your group to a maximum of three. And make sure you test before you go.”
Ms Sturgeon said she was issuing the advice “reluctantly” and that it was not done “lightly”.
While the advice to limit social gatherings to a maximum of three households will not be enforceable in law, Ms Sturgeon announced that allowing staff to work from home where possible will again become a legal duty on employers.
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Other announcements for businesses include “a return to the kind of protections in place at the start of the pandemic” to avoid crowding, such as physical distancing and table service in bars.
Ms Sturgeon also argued it was “not acceptable” that there was no additional funding yet available from the UK Government to support businesses affected by the measures she is introducing and said: “Our public health response is curtailed by lack of finance”.
Business were also asked to “step up” protections to minimise the risk of transmission – for example, measures to avoid crowding in retail spaces and in bars.
Omicron is “spreading faster than any variant that has come before it”, she added, with it expected to be Scotland’s dominant variant “within days”.
Care home visits should be limited to two households, with all visitors asked to take a coronavirus test before attending, Ms Sturgeon said.
It follows guidance for care home staff to take daily lateral flow tests.
Ms Sturgeon also said she wants schools to remain open “if at all possible” to limit any further disruption to pupils’ education and said there would be new guidance issued later in the week.
Addressing the coronavirus vaccine booster scheme, Ms Sturgeon said all over 18s should be able to book appointments online from Wednesday.
But the First Minister said she could not guarantee that all adults would be able to be vaccinated by the new year, citing “vaccination staff absences” as one of the reasons.
She added: “We are aiming to reach as close as possible to 80% uptake by the end of December, with the balance of appointments taking place in January.”
Earlier, Ms Sturgeon stressed vaccination was the “best line of defence” against Omicron.
“We’ve got to bust a gut to get this programme done as quickly as possible.”
She told BBC Scotland: “We are currently the most vaccinated part of the UK, including through boosters, but we do want to speed that up because Omicron is running very fast, and we need to speed up the vaccines.
“We also know from some of the early evidence in terms of being infected with Omicron one or two doses is not sufficient… so it’s really, really important we get booster jags [jabs] into people’s arms as quickly as possible.”
Ms Sturgeon said she is aware people have found it difficult to book an appointment for a booster, but urged them to “keep trying”.
Currently, 2,154,571 people in Scotland have had a booster vaccination, with those aged 30 and above now able to book appointments in the system, which will then be opened up to all adults later this week.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross criticised the Scottish Government’s previous reluctance to relaunch mass vaccination centres.
He said: “Week after week, my party has come to this chamber and ask the First Minister to prepare to bring in mass vaccination centres.
“But only now, only today, has that been accepted. The Scottish Government have delayed and now they’re scrambling to find venues at the last minute.”