The first minister will meet with her cabinet tomorrow to consider further action to limit the spread of Covid-19, with an update on the reopening of schools expected.
Nicola Sturgeon said the “rapid increase” in coronavirus cases driven by the new variant is of “very serious concern” ahead of a special meeting of ministers on Monday.
The Scottish Parliament is set to be recalled from recess on Monday to allow the first minister to make an “urgent statement” at 2pm on further measures to suppress the virus.
It is anticipated that this will include a further delay to the return of schools and a stay at home style lockdown, more like the situation in March.
Ms Sturgeon said while vaccines offer a “way out”, the new strain of the virus makes the period between now and then the “most dangerous since the start of the pandemic”.
Deputy first minister John Swinney said the education recovery group will meet on Monday morning in advance of cabinet to consider the current advice in relation to schools and early learning.
Schools were due to return to face-t0-face learning on January 18 but Ms Sturgeon said last week that this was under review.
In England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he has “no doubt” schools are safe and pupils should return from Monday.
Primary schools in London and some surrounding areas are not due to reopen until January 18 but Mr Johnson said the risk to young people was “very, very small” amid calls from teaching unions to close all schools for the next two weeks.
1/5 The rapid increase in Covid cases, driven by the new variant, is of v serious concern. The steep increases & severe NHS pressure being experienced in other parts of the UK is a sign of what may lie ahead. So we must take all steps to slow spread while vaccination progresses
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) January 3, 2021
The first minister said: “The steep increases and severe NHS pressure being experienced in other parts of the UK is a sign of what may lie ahead.
“So we must take all steps to slow spread while vaccination progresses.
“We, like other countries, are in a race between this faster spreading strain of Covid-19 and the vaccination programme.
“As we work to vaccinate as quickly as possible, we must also do more to slow down th virus – to save lives and help the NHS care for all those who need it.”
We, like other countries, are in a race between this faster spreading strain of Covid-19 and the vaccination programme.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Following a meeting of the Scottish Government resilience committee on Saturday, the first minister will meet with her cabinet on Monday and set out her decisions in a statement to parliament on Monday afternoon.
She added: “All decisions just now are tough, with tough impacts.
“Vaccines give us a way out, but this new strain makes the period between now and then the most dangerous since the start of the pandemic.
“So the responsibility of government must be to act quickly and decisively in the national interest.
“For now, please continue to take Covid-19 seriously – it is a real threat to life and health and, if it runs out of control, it damages the economy more too.
“Please stay at home as much as possible and avoid non-essential interactions with other households.”
The daily coronavirus figures released on Sunday show there were 2,464 new cases across Scotland in the past 24 hours, which represents 15.2% of the 17,328 tests that reported results.
2,464 new Covid cases reported – which is 15.2% of all tests carried out. This is further evidence that the new variant is accelerating transmission, and is the context for tomorrow’s @scotgov Cabinet decisions and recall of @ScotParl https://t.co/WxQgqqlgCu
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) January 3, 2021
This is higher than Saturday’s confirmed increase of 2,137 new cases, when 10.8% of cases came back positive.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said it is “right” to consider putting further restrictions in place as a “matter of urgency” but urged the Scottish Government to publish the evidence behind all its decisions.
He added: “What is clear is that we need to see an acceleration of the vaccine roll-out and a step change in testing.
“It is also clear that financial support from government has simply not been nearly sufficient to make up for the damage that lockdown measures have done to jobs, livelihoods and businesses.
“The SNP government must distribute additional funds to the front line now.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said the safety of pupils, teachers and school staff must be the determining factor in deciding whether to delay the return to schools on January 18.
He said: “Everyone accepts that schools should be kept open in an ideal world, but the current situation is far from ideal.
“When parliament returns on Monday I expect the first minister to explain exactly what support will be provided to ensure that periods of online learning, for however long they need to last, are as successful as possible.
“The Scottish Government must also reconsider its decision not to prioritise teachers and school staff as vaccines are rolled out.”