Deputy First Minster warns Covid measures could be brought in Scotland

Scotland considers MORE new Omicron rules to be announced NEXT WEEK – as people are told to isolate for 10 days even if they test NEGATIVE

  • John Swinney, 57, said Scottish ministers are considering new Covid measures
  • Deputy First Minister said measures may be needed to ‘interrupt’ spread of virus
  • On Friday, Nicola Sturgeon warned of impending ‘tsunami’ triggered by Omicron
  • It comes as first part of Government’s Plan B force came into force on Saturday

Stringent new Covid-19 restrictions could be introduced in Scotland as soon as next week as the super-mutant Omicron variant pushes the country’s Covid cases to a three-month high.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney, 57, said Scottish ministers are spending the weekend ‘wrestling with the challenge of what are the right rules to have in place’.

He said ministers were judging which measures to put in place to try and ‘interrupt the circulation’ of coronavirus, after scientists warned the highly-transmissible Omicron variant could cause nearly 2,500 daily hospitalisations this winter.

It comes one day after Nicola Sturgeon warned of an impending ‘tsunami’ triggered by Omicron, while Public Health Scotland told people to delay Christmas parties and Hogmanay celebrations amid rising concerns over the new strain.

Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, also announced entire families in Scotland will have to self-isolate for 10 days if one member of the household tests positive for coronavirus to help tackle the strain and keep a lid on the impending crisis.

Meanwhile, the first part of Boris Johnson’s Plan B came into force in England today with the introduction of compulsory face masks in some indoor settings. New work-from-home guidance will also come into effect on Monday.

Asked on BBC Breakfast if new Covid measures would be put in place in Scotland next week, Mr Swinney said: ‘I can’t say definitively that will be the case, but that’s certainly been looked at over this weekend.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney (pictured), 57, said Scottish ministers are spending the weekend ‘wrestling with the challenge of what are the right rules to have in place’

‘And we have to judge what’s the best set of measures that we can take to try to interrupt the circulation of the virus. 

‘We can’t have it moving at the pace it’s moving at just now because the danger is that will overwhelm our public and private services.’

Asked if Scotland faced a restricted Christmas due to new restrictions, he added: ‘I don’t think so and I hope not. And we’re working very hard just now to make sure that does not become the case.’

Nicola Sturgeon is due to give a statement in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.  

Mr Swinney’s comments come as the latest statistics show 11 more Omicron cases have been confirmed in Scotland, taking the total to 121.

There were 4,087 coronavirus cases in total reported in the last 24 hours, with 12 deaths. 

Across the whole of the UK, some 663 new cases of the strain were detected, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said, up from the 448 recorded yesterday. 

It takes the country’s total to 1,898, although experts suggest the true number is much higher.

Scotland, which along with London has become one of the UK’s Omicron hotspots, today reported 5,018 positive Covid tests, which is the highest number in three months and double the number a week ago. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today told Scots to brace for a ‘tsunami’ of infections, as she warned the new super-variant posed a ‘severe challenge’

SCOTLAND: Covid hospitalisations have been tumbling downwards since September, with just 38 patients hospitalised on Sunday, compared to 87 one month earlier

SCOTLAND: Daily Covid deaths have been falling in Scotland, with an average of nine fatalities per day within 28 days of a positive test in the week up to December 1. Zero deaths were recorded on Wednesday, the most recent date figures are available for, but this may be adjusted upwards in the coming days due to registration days

Meanwhile, a hospital ward in Inverness has been closed to new admissions due to a Covid-19 outbreak.

NHS Highland said that Ward 7a at Raigmore Hospital is closed to new admissions and visiting following the detection of a small number of cases of coronavirus.

Tests are establishing whether any of the cases are of the Omicron variant. The results are expected next week.

On Friday, Ms Sturgeon warned of an impending ‘tsunami’ triggered by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant, based on grisly data suggesting Omicron could become dominant in Scotland within days.

What can England expect? Public Health Scotland tells people to CANCEL Christmas and New Year parties due to fears over rising Omicron cases

Public Health Scotland has told people they should delay Christmas parties and Hogmanay celebrations due to fears over the rising number of Omicron cases in the country.

A total of 108 cases of the mutant Covid strain were reported in Scotland between November 1 and December 8, with official figures showing nearly half of all positive tests are in the 20-39 age bracket. 

Dr Nick Phin, the director of public health science and medical director at Public Health Scotland, has now urged families to put off any planned Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations to help in the battle against the raging variant. 

He said: ‘To help minimise the further spread of Covid-19, and Omicron in particular, I would strongly urge people to defer their Christmas parties to another time.’

Last year’s celebrations were also cancelled because of rising cases, with Ms Sturgeon suggesting that the public ‘should ring in 2021 in our own homes’. 

Latest Scottish Government figures also show there were 16 coronavirus deaths and 3,196 cases recorded within the past 24 hours.

It brought Scotland’s Covid death toll, under the daily measure of people who first tested positive within the previous 28 days, to 9,688.  

In a plea to Scotland residents, Dr Phin said: ‘There is much that we still need to learn about Omicron, but early evidence suggests that this new Covid variant is much more transmissible.

‘The impact of this transmissibility has been seen in recent weeks, with a number of Omicron outbreaks linked to parties.

‘We still need to learn more about the severity of disease caused by Omicron and the effectiveness of vaccines, but there are important things that we can do to help protect ourselves and our families now.

‘I appreciate that everyone is keen to celebrate this festive season, particularly after the pressures of the last 20 months, but by postponing some plans we can all do our bit to protect ourselves and our loved ones.’

In the face of the ever-worsening threat, she announced entire families in Scotland will have to self-isolate for 10 days if one member of the household tests positive for coronavirus to help tackle the strain and keep a lid on the impending crisis.

The Scottish First Minister said that as of tomorrow ‘all household contacts of any confirmed Covid case should isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status and even if they initially get a negative PCR test’.

Ms Sturgeon said she knew this would not be ‘easy’ and that there will be ‘careful exemptions for critical services’. However, she insisted the move is ‘essential at this moment’ because of the rapid spread of the new variant.

The SNP leader said non-household contacts of a positive case should continue to self-isolate, pending a PCR test and if that test is negative they can leave isolation as long as they are double-jabbed.

Omicron currently makes up 13.3 per cent of Covid cases already in Scotland, which has become a hotspot for the super-strain along with London, but it’s doubling every two days. Scotland today reported 5,018 positive Covid tests, which is the highest number in three months and double the number a week ago. 

Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon also urged people in Scotland to defer work Christmas parties as she said limiting ‘unnecessary contacts’ is the ‘sensible’ thing to do to slow transmission of the disease.

Ms Sturgeon told a coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh at lunchtime that as of yesterday at 5pm there were 110 confirmed Omicron cases in Scotland and 10 days ago the number was just nine.

She warned the latest figure is likely to be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and the data suggests the current spread of Omicron represents the ‘fastest exponential growth that we have seen in this pandemic so far’.

Ms Sturgeon said the number of Omicron cases is doubling every two to three days and the variant could overtake Delta as the dominant strain ‘within days’.

She said the R number in Scotland – the average number of secondary infections produced by a single infected person – had been ‘hovering’ around one in recent weeks but the R number for Omicron is ‘likely to be well over two and possibly closer to three’ which could result in a ‘rapid rise’ in cases in the days ahead.

‘The fact is we do face a renewed and very severe challenge in the face of of the new Omicron variant, ‘ she said.

‘To be blunt, because of the much greater and faster transmissibility of this new variant, we may be facing – indeed we may be starting to experience – a potential tsunami of infections.’ 

She added: ‘Indeed, I think we can now say with some confidence that we expect it to overtake Delta within days, not weeks – we estimate this could be as early as the very beginning of next week.’

The highly-evolved variant is now behind 8.5 per cent of the UK’s coronavirus cases compared to just four per cent at the start of the week, according to an analysis of UK Health Security Agency data.

Scotland — where it’s feared Omicron was seeded during the Cop26 climate change summit in early November — and London are being hit hardest by Omicron but the strain has been detected in every country in the UK and nearly every region.

The UK Government is already considering a tougher ‘Plan C’ to tackle Omicron which could see care homes slapped with fresh restrictions in the run up to Christmas and masks made compulsory in pubs and restaurants.

Some 663 new cases of the strain were detected across the UK, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said, up from the 448 recorded yesterday. It takes the country’s total to 1,898, although experts suggest the true number is much higher 

Controversial vaccine passports could also be extended to more venues as part of the contingency measures being floated within Downing Street if the Omicron super variant proves to be as dangerous as scientists fear.

A UK Government source said it was ‘very likely’ care home residents could be banned from seeing more than three visitors over the festive period to prevent another explosive outbreak in the sector.

But campaign groups warned the plans could be ‘devastating’ and ‘heartbreaking’, with many families forced to pick loved ones on what could be their last Christmas.

Other curbs in a ‘Plan C’ could include having to ‘check in’ with the NHS Covid app again to go to a pub or restaurant, using face masks in all indoor spaces, and having to show a vaccine passport at even more venues.

The first part of the Government’s Plan B came into force today with the introduction of compulsory face masks in indoor settings such as theatres, cinemas and churches. New work-from-home guidance will come into effect on Monday, and MPs will vote on Tuesday on the introduction of vaccine passports for nightclubs and large venues.

Labour has said it will support the rollout of Plan B, despite a suggestion that many opposition MPs could vote down the measures in protest against ongoing accusations that Number 10 held a number of lockdown-breaking parties last winter.

But backbench Tory MPs have told MailOnline that the Government could face its biggest mutiny yet, with at least 60 Conservative MPs expected to defy the government whip and vote down the plans.

Ms Sturgeon announced two new interventions at lunchtime in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant: Tougher isolation rules and strengthened guidance to defer Christmas parties.

‘Given that Omicron is now becoming dominant, our response to it has to become more general because it will quickly be the case that most people who have Covid have the Omicron variant and we must do all we can in that context to break the transmission chains,’ she said.

‘Therefore from tomorrow our advice will be that all household contacts of any confirmed Covid case should isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status and even if they initially get a negative PCR test.

‘I know that this is not easy and we will obviously keep it under review. We will also ensure careful exemptions for critical services.

Confidential UK Health Security Agency data showed that Omicron may now be behind 8.5 per cent of infections. The figures are based on the proportion of PCR tests failing to detect a specific gene, an early indicator of the variant. PCRs look for three genes to confirm a Covid infection, but with Omicron one is so mutated that they only pick up two of them

A Pfizer booster provides between 70 and 75 per cent protection against mild Omicron illness, regardless of which vaccine was originally used, compared to 90 per cent for Delta. Two doses of Pfizer may offer just 37 per cent protection after three-and-a-half months compared to 60 per cent for Delta. Two shots of AstraZeneca offered virtually no protection after the same amount of time. But the scientists caution that data for AstraZeneca was less reliable due to the fact the vaccine was restricted in some age groups and typically used at the very start of the initial vaccine rollout in vulnerable people

‘But we believe this to be essential at this moment to help slow transmission. Non-household contacts should continue to isolate pending a PCR result. If that is negative they can leave isolation at that point as long as they are double vaccinated.’

Public Health Scotland yesterday published new advice on work Christmas parties and Ms Sturgeon urged Scots to follow it.

‘This is not easy advice to give or to hear but it is incumbent on public health experts to set out very clearly and frankly the risks we face and it is incumbent on me and government to pay attention to that advice,’ she said.

‘There is a significant risk with Omicron and we are already seeing the reality of it, of Christmas parties or events with lots of people becoming super-spreaders.

Up to 4,000 Britons are catching Omicron each day: Scotland’s Covid cases DOUBLE in a week to three-month high amid fears mutant variant will become dominant in DAYS

As many as 4,000 Britons may be catching Omicron every day with the super-variant on track to replace Delta in in a matter of days, official data suggests — as the mutant pushes Scotland’s Covid cases to a three-month high.

The highly-evolved virus is now behind 8.5 per cent of coronavirus cases across the UK and is doubling every two to three days, according to an analysis of UK Health Security Agency data.

With an average 48,000 Britons testing positive for Covid every day, it suggests more than 4,000 of them are the new Omicron variant — even though fewer than 1,000 cases have been confirmed. 

Scotland, which along with London has become one of the UK’s Omicron hotspots, today reported 5,018 positive Covid tests which is the highest number in three months and double the number a week ago. 

The mutant strain makes up 13 per cent, or one in eight, of overall cases in Scotland.

Public health chiefs expect it to outstrip Delta nationally by Christmas, with its rapid spread prompting No10 to resort to its Plan B strategy. 

A senior member of the Government’s scientific advisory group SAGE yesterday warned that Omicron was spreading even faster in the UK than it is in South Africa — where cases have rocketed 10-fold in a fortnight. 

‘If that happens, lots of people get infected and if these are work events as well as the risk to individual health there is a risk to the ability of the workplace to operate as people have to isolate.’

She added: ‘The public health advice, which I have no alternative but to agree with given the evidence of risk that I know about and have now shared with you, is that we should all think a bit more carefully about unnecessary contacts, especially in crowded places just now and that it would be sensible to defer work Christmas parties.’

Ms Sturgeon said that while evidence suggests Omicron can evade some immunity given by vaccines, people should still get jabbed.

‘Based on preliminary laboratory trials, the best evidence suggests it can evade to some extent the immunity conferred by vaccination,’ she said.

‘Now, and I want to triple underline this point, that does not mean that the vaccines will not significantly help us – being less effective is not the same, nowhere near the same, as vaccines being ineffective and booster doses in particular will help retain a higher level of vaccine efficiency.’

Ms Sturgeon said the greater transmissibility of the new variant represents a threat to the NHS even if the strain is found to be less severe than its predecessors.

She said that ‘a smaller percentage of a bigger number will still result in a massive number of cases who might need hospital care’.

She added: ‘Given the volume of people who could be infected by Omicron because of its greater transmissibility, even if most of those cases are mild, the number of cases of serious illness will put massive strain on the ability of the NHS to cope.’

Ms Sturgeon also said she cannot rule out further restrictions being put in place in Scotland as a result of the Omicron variant.

Ministers are hoping the Government’s ‘Plan B’ will be enough to slow the spread of Omicron in England while more booster jabs are administered.

But as shops, pubs and restaurants warn of the millions they face losing at their busiest time of year under the new measures, officials are already working on another back-up strategy.

The looming threat of tighter restrictions in the run-up to Christmas, which has echoes of this time last year, come amid fury at Mr Johnson’s decision to impose ‘Plan B’ measures yesterday, on the same day that he tried to grapple with the fallout of the Downing Street Christmas party scandal.

He is set to face a ‘war’ with his backbenchers when the measures are voted on next week. They reacted furiously to the planned introduction of vaccine passports next week – and took aim at the ‘conflicting’ guidance on working from home and socialising, with no official advice to cancel festive parties.

A source told The Telegraph that it is ‘highly likely’ care homes will once again be hit by restrictions, with ministers looking at limiting the number of visitors to three.

The move would reportedly come in time for Christmas to limit the amount of mixing in homes during the festive period.

But the plans have been slammed by campaign groups, who say they will force families to make ‘devastating’ decisions about who gets to see loved ones on possibly their last Christmas.

Government scientists warned Omicron could cause nearly more daily hospitalisations this winter than Alpha did last year and tougher measures will be needed to deal with the variant

Modelling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) suggests Omicron could cause anywhere from between 25,000 to 75,000 deaths in England over the next five months and more hospitalisations in January than were seen last year

Rights for Residents told the newspaper: ‘It just takes us back to where we were many months ago, and the impact it will have on families will be devastating.

‘It’s absolutely heartbreaking for families to have to choose who can visit them. How do you pick those three people?’

Mr Johnson is facing a Tory rebellion next week when the ‘Plan B’ rules will be voted on in the House of Commons.

At least 50 Tories have publicly expressed concerns, and a senior Conservative said Mr Johnson needed to ‘get a grip’.

Ringleaders have told MailOnline that it will be the biggest mutiny faced by the PM yet, with at least 60 expected to defy the government whip. 

Meanwhile, modelling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) suggests the Omicron strain could cause anywhere from between 25,000 to 75,000 deaths in England over the next five months and more hospitalisations in January than were seen last year.

The researchers — who also sit on the Spi-M SAGE modelling subgroup that advises No10 — said restrictions similar to stage two of the roadmap out of lockdown, which include a ban on indoor socialising at pubs and restaurants, may be needed to stop the NHS becoming overwhelmed.

They suggested the measures should be brought in as Boxing Day to stem the tide of admissions and deaths and added that upping the booster rollout to the Government’s 500,000 per day target will do little to reduce the toll.

But the data was based on assuming Omicron causes as much severe illness as Delta in people who are unvaccinated and have not been previously infected, which has been called into question after preliminary data from South Africa suggested the strain could be resulting in less hospitalisation.

Professor Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, said the variant is spreading so quickly in Britain everyone will come into contact with it ‘unless you’re a hermit’.

Professor Riley warned ‘a lot of people’ could still end up in hospital even if the strain proves to cause milder symptoms than Delta.

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