Medical experts have warned they have “significant concerns” the easing of coronavirus rules over Christmas will lead to an increase in cases and probably deaths.
Dr Lewis Morrison, chairman of British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland, and Dr Miles Mack, chairman of the Scottish Academy, also said a rise in Covid-19 cases could overwhelm parts of the NHS.
Restrictions will be eased between December 23 and December 27 to allow three households to form a “bubble”, permitting them to meet indoors, outdoors or in a place of worship.
Scots are advised to have no more than eight people aged over 12 in any Christmas bubble they form, and these can only include one extended household.
Children under 12 will not be counted towards the total number of people permitted in any grouping.
The doctors said it has “clearly not been easy for politicians to strike a balance” between reducing social isolation over the festive period and the “inevitable rise in Covid-19 cases in that will occur in January as a result of more social mixing”.
In a statement released to The Herald newspaper, they said: “We must be honest and say we have significant concerns about how this five-day period may impact upon Covid-19 infection rates.
“Multiple people mixing indoors for prolonged periods of time will lead to an increase in cases.
“This means more people becoming unwell, being admitted to hospital and, probably, more deaths.”
They also said they are “anxious” about the impact on the NHS and its staff this winter, with January always an “extremely challenging” time of year for the health service.
The doctors warned: “There is a risk the addition of more Covid-19 cases as a result of the easing of restrictions may overwhelm parts of the NHS, whose services are already stretched to their limits.”
Though restrictions are being eased, those living in shared flats are being urged not to split up from their current housemates, while people who might want to visit a loved one in hospital or a care home are advised to avoid entering any bubble arrangement.
Scotland’s national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch has said households in any bubble should remain two metres apart from each other.
Dr Morrison and Dr Mack have advised people to “consider very carefully” who to meet and how to do so safely.
They urged people to wash their hands regularly, maintain good hygiene, increase ventilation inside, minimise crowding and observe social distancing.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday that there will be no immediate changes to the current coronavirus restrictions levels across Scotland, adding they are having a “positive impact”.
She said: “The sacrifices everyone is making are making a difference.
“They are getting case numbers down, reducing the numbers getting ill and needing hospital care and so protecting the NHS and saving lives.”
Ms Sturgeon confirmed the 11 council areas under the highest level of restrictions will have these lifted at 6pm on December 11.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “We are grateful for the ongoing contribution of the Royal Colleges and the BMA throughout this pandemic.
“We agree with this joint statement.
“The relaxation of restrictions to allow families and friends to come together if absolutely necessary is limited.
“The guidelines set out what we think is a proportionate and careful approach to rules around socialising.
“We cannot ignore the fact that any relaxation of measures carries additional risk, so the temporary easing is about helping people, particularly those who might otherwise be on their own at Christmas.
“In order to mitigate these risks, stop the spread of the virus and save lives, it is absolutely vital that people consider very carefully whether a Christmas bubble is appropriate for them and, if they decide it is, to follow the guidance closely.”