Islanders in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles will be allowed household visits from Friday, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
The first minister announced an easing of restrictions for people living in those regions as part of the government’s first review of the country’s tiered approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
All three remain in tier one but two households will be allowed to meet in their own homes – up to a maximum of six people – thanks to “low and sporadic” numbers of Covid-19 cases in recent weeks.
Highland and Moray councils also remain in tier one, but without the easing of household visits.
Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Argyll and Bute councils remain in tier two.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The social isolation caused by the restrictions have often been exacerbated in island communities where there are not as many public places to meet.
“Unfortunately, we don’t yet consider it prudent to lift this restriction for people in the Highlands or Moray.
“Although cases in these areas remain relatively low, we have seen some volatility in recent days.”
To prevent coronavirus being imported to the islands, Ms Sturgeon said there would be “clear guidance” that anyone visiting the mainland and then returning home would be advised to “avoid in-house mixing for a period after their return”.
The increase in coronavirus cases in Scotland has levelled off after weeks of tough restrictions on household gatherings and the hospitality trade, but ministers want to see a “significant and sustained” fall in numbers.
No local authority areas have seen their restriction level lowered, though Fife, Perth and Kinross, and Angus have been moved from tier two to tier three.
The first minister described the change as a “difficult, but in our view necessary and precautionary decision”.
Ms Sturgeon said Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire were tier two areas that had shown some signs of “stability”.
She added: “While there are some signs of stability, and even improvement in most of them, that is not yet sufficient evidence of a sustained decline in the number of cases.
“For these reasons, we consider it sensible for these areas to remain in level two for now, but we do remain hopeful that some or all of them will be able to move to level one soon.”
Of the 10,499 new tests for Covid-19 that reported results, 9.5% of them were positive, up from 9.1% the previous day.
Among the new cases, 293 were in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 171 were in NHS Lanarkshire, 114 were in NHS Lothian and 90 in NHS Ayrshire and Arran.
There were 1,239 people in hospital on Monday with recently confirmed Covid-19, up from 1,226 the day before.
Of these, 102 were in intensive care, down by three from 105 the previous day.
Ms Sturgeon ended her statement to Holyrood with a note of optimism and another plea for people to continue following the guidelines that will allow the country to “look forward to brighter days in the spring”.
She said: “These are really difficult decisions and I want to stress that the week ahead is a particularly crucial juncture.
“The best chance all of us have of avoiding a move to level four or indeed of moving down a level is to stick with it, and to abide by all of the current restrictions.
“I know fatigue is setting in, and frustration is setting in, but I appeal to everyone across the country: please redouble your efforts in the days ahead.
“This will be over one day. But it is not over yet, and this is not the time to let down our guard.”