Scots have been warned they face six more months of anti-Covid measures with new restrictions on household gatherings and hospitality to be announced shortly.
Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland’s coronavirus death toll would escalate unless “urgent” action was taken hours before she has a Cobra meeting with Boris Johnson.
Ms Sturgeon suggested an extended period of stop/start tightening and relaxing of measures would be required for another half year.
At her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon said the spread of the virus was accelerating, adding she would inform Holyrood of the steps the Scottish Government intends to take within the next 48 hours.
Six months is kind of a timescale that we all have to be prepared to be living in a way that is not entirely normal.”
The first minister will take part in a Cobra resilience meeting with the prime minister on Tuesday, which will involve discussions about a four-nation approach. But she added she would have no hesitation in taking the Scottish decisions that she felt were needed.
The R number was above the critical level of one and the percentage of tests returning positive results had breached the 5% threshold, at 6.3%.
Ms Sturgeon said if the number of new cases continued to rise, hospital admissions would increase and so would deaths.
A tightening and easing of measures
She warned that the country would be living with the virus until a vaccine was available and people would be required to observe “certain restrictions” for the months ahead.
“Six months is kind of a timescale that we all have to be prepared to be living in a way that is not entirely normal,” the first minister said.
“Now, what that doesn’t mean is that any restrictions we bring in place this week will be in place for a solid six-month period.
“It may be that we have periods where we have to have greater restrictions, then ease them a bit, and have other restrictions later on.”
She added that people working together could give families “some greater degree of normality” this Christmas.
Action on household gatherings and hospitality
When asked what measures would be put in place when she makes her statement to parliament after her meeting with Mr Johnson, Ms Sturgeon said the “biggest risk” was transmission from household to household.
Therefore, she would be looking at household gathering measures, which currently limit numbers to six people from two households. She added that indoor areas where people meet were also under consideration, which would include the rules governing pubs and restaurants.
With her advisers, she had been looking at “all possible options” over the weekend with a view to producing a package of restrictions to bring down the R number to below one while keeping schools open.
The interim Chief Medical Officer, Dr Gregor Smith, said Test and Protect data have given an “overwhelming” signal that there was a “strong association” linking the virus with family household gatherings and social events.
Dr Smith added that there was an “increasing signal” from some elements of hospitality, work-related cases and travel within Scotland or from the rest of the UK and abroad.
Ms Sturgeon’s briefing was held as a leaked document emerged that appeared to show the Scottish Government is considering a two-week “circuit break” that would result in a return to lockdown for a fortnight.
The first minister said she would not comment on leaked documents “whether they’re genuine or not”.
The document, which was published on the Guido Fawkes website, suggested a fixed, standardised two-week period across Scotland or a “rolling circuit break” for the October school holiday.
Schools would be closed for half term with universities and colleges only engaged in remote learning. The hospitality sector would be closed and the public subjected to a repeat of the “stay at home” message.
Other measures mentioned included closing entertainment venues such as cinemas, travel restricted to five or 30 miles, no contact sport, avoiding public transport and restrictions on care home and hospital visiting.
After refusing to be drawn on the provenance of the document, Ms Sturgeon added: “What I would say is that any responsible government right now will be looking at a whole range of different options – I know the Scottish Government is,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“We haven’t reached final decisions yet, so anyone that’s looking at any documents and drawing a conclusion that these are definitely going to happen is wrong. But, yes, we are looking at a wide range of options.”