Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that Omicron is now the dominant variant of Covid-19 circulating in Scotland – and says it is already putting “significant” pressure on services and the economy.
Ms Sturgeon says the rapidly spreading variant now accounts for 51.4% of cases in Scotland, up from 15.5% seven days ago.
At a briefing today with chief medical officer Gregor Smith, she also reiterated scientific data which shows that Omicron is better at evading the immunity offered by one or two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
She said: “Last Friday, I reported that the S Gene indicator was telling us then that 15.5% of all cases were likely to be the Omicron variant. Today, it is 51.4%.
“That does mean Omicron has now replaced Delta as the dominant Covid strain circulating in Scotland.”
With Omicron cases doubling every two to three days, Ms Sturgeon pointed out that there are are up to seven “doubling cycles” still to come before Hogmanay.
Ms Sturgeon has again urged people to stay at home and “prioritise occasions that matter most to you” when socialising – saying that is was the best way to avoid being forced to isolate over Christmas.
Omicron ‘much more infectious’
She says that without slowing the spread of the virus, the NHS could still be overwhelmed, even if this variant is less severe than others.
And she has warned that other services could also be hit as drivers, teachers and other key workers are forced to isolate.
The first minister said: “It is important to understand that this isn’t simply an issue for the health service.
“The numbers of people becoming infected even mildly – and having to isolate – is already putting a significant strain on the economy and critical services.
‘Stay at home and prioritise Christmas’
“As people become infected, we lose drivers for trains, teachers for classrooms, nurses for hospital wards, and workers for businesses across the country.
“So there really isn’t a choice to be made between slowing the spread of Omicron and protecting the economy.”
Her update also included details of how £100million of financial support will be used to support businesses affected by rising cases.
The hospitality sector will be given some £66m, while £8m will be given out the to food and drink supply chain.
A further £20m will be awarded to the culture sector, £3m to the wedding sector and £3m to the worst affected parts of the tourism sector.
“We are working with councils, enterprise agencies and others to ensure businesses get this money as soon as possible.
“Those who have previously received support will be contacted directly,” Ms Sturgeon added.
The funding announcement came just hours after Finance Secretary Kate Forbes repeated pleas for Westminster to offer more support to keep Scotland’s businesses afloat.
Speaking to BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, she said: “We want to be able to ensure that when Omicron has passed, they have the capability to get up and trade fully again and a lot of that comes down to staff.
“If you think of the challenges that business have faced over the last few months, with staffing shortages, rising costs, inflation, its been a tough few months for businesses and right now they are seeing a reduced trade without the ability to get help for staffing.
“We know that we can’t go further without additional funding.”