Nicola Sturgeon has warned people against meeting up for office parties and urged them to cut down contact with others before the easing of Covid measures for Christmas.
The first minister said work dos that could not be held virtually should be postponed until spring or summer, saying face-to-face gatherings posed a “real risk” of transmission.
At her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon apologised for sounding like the “Christmas kill-joy” as Scotland enters what would normally be the festive party season.
Ms Sturgeon said she did not intend to abandon the Scottish Government’s current proposal to ease restrictions for a limited period over Christmas.
“We are not planning to change the arrangements that we set out couple of weeks ago, but I will probably, every single day from now until Christmas, stand here, or in parliament, and urge people to be cautious and sensible,” Ms Sturgeon said.
Office parties, especially if they involve alcohol, present a real risk of transmission. People are less likely to stick to physical distancing requirements than when they are working and more likely to pass around food or drinks without, perhaps, washing their hands as carefully as they should.”
The first minister was responding to reports from Germany, where tough measures are being imposed over the festive season in an attempt to prevent spread of the virus. Italy and the Netherlands are also expected to impose tough new measures over Christmas and New Year.
Ms Sturgeon said she had to balance discouraging interaction with pragmatism, in that there would be people desperate to meet up with loved ones.
“But that doesn’t change the fact that I am saying very clearly to people, if you can avoid these interactions over this Christmas period I am suggesting that is what you do, because there is no risk-free way of interacting with other households,” the first minister said.
Joining the First Minister is Health Secretary Jeane Freeman and Scotland’s Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith. https://t.co/TUg5kVLZze
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) December 14, 2020
From December 23-27, measures are being relaxed in Scotland to allow meetings of up to eight people, from up to three households in a bubble.
Ms Sturgeon said that if people are planning to take advantage of the change of rules, they should start reducing “unnecessary contacts” with others.
“If you usually have a weekly catch-up with a friend in a café – perhaps decide not to have that catch-up this week or next week,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“If you are car-sharing at the moment – which of course is something that is always risky and we are advising against – try not to do it over the next couple of weeks, in particular.”
Sorry for being the Christmas kill-joy
Moving on to the office party season, Ms Sturgeon said she was “sorry” she was beginning “to sound like the Christmas kill-joy here”.
“If you can’t work from home and you’re sharing a workplace with colleagues just now I understand why it might be tempting to have some sort of celebration or social gathering at work because this obviously has been a really difficult time for everyone,” she said.
“But office parties, especially if they involve alcohol, present a real risk of transmission.
“People are less likely to stick to physical distancing requirements than when they are working and more likely to pass around food or drinks without perhaps washing their hands as carefully as they should.
“So I’m asking everybody, please, don’t take these risks. By far the best way of marking Christmas with your colleagues this year is virtually.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “It is not as much fun, I appreciate that, but it is much, much safer.
“And if you can’t do that then perhaps think about postponing your Christmas celebration into next year, perhaps the spring or the summer of next year when hopefully we will be starting to see some greater normality return to our lives.”
‘It is wearisome, it is difficult…’
She conceded Christmas could be one of the hardest periods in the coronavirus crisis for many.
“We have been living with this for 10 months, it is wearisome, it is difficult, it is causing a lot of people a lot of mental stress and worry and anxiety,” the First Minister said.
“However difficult it has been over the past 10 months, I think for a lot of people the next couple of weeks will be the most difficult period yet because we are going into a period when we normally, all of us, like to spend time with loved ones, including loved ones we might not see regularly for the rest of the year.
“It is tough. I think it is understandable people are thoroughly scunnered and fed up with it. But we are still in the grip of this virus. So tough though it is, it is in the interests of all of us and those we love to stick with it.”
Protect Scotland app
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon welcomed the first care home residents in Scotland being vaccinated on Monday morning, as the mass inoculation programme expands, but said the virus remains a “real and present danger”.
She said in the past six days more than 18,000 vaccinators and health and care workers have received the first dose of the vaccine against the disease.
Ms Sturgeon also announced the Protect Scotland app can now be downloaded by any secondary school pupil, when it was previously limited to those aged at least 16.
She said: “By downloading the app, young people will be helping to control and mitigate any outbreaks among young people and I think that will be particularly important over holiday periods.”