Nicola Sturgeon will announce whether further coronavirus restrictions will be imposed across Scotland in response to the growing outbreak of the Omicron variant.
The First Minister is due to make a statement at Holyrood on Tuesday setting out any new measures as well as updating the Scottish Parliament on the booster vaccination programme.
Scotland’s Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has warned that new restrictions were “inevitable” because of fears over the spread of the virus and the Omicron strain in particular.
And speaking in advance of the statement, Ms Sturgeon cautioned that there may be “targeted and proportionate” measures introduced as a trade-off for allowing families to meet at Christmas.
She said: “We need to try to protect peoples’ ability to spend Christmas with their families, and I am personally hoping for a more normal Christmas than last year on behalf of everybody across the country.
“But we need to balance that with the need to keep people as safe as possible in the run up to, and throughout, the winter and into 2022.
“With Omicron, the virus has mutated and is now more transmissible than anything we have seen before – our estimation is that it will be the dominant strain in Scotland at some point this week.
“The most important step we can all take, alongside regular testing, remains to get vaccinated.
“I know many have already booked their booster appointments, but I am aware others will have found it more difficult to get an appointment. Please keep trying – every effort is being made to build capacity, and more appointments are being created each day.
“We are working round the clock with health boards to look at all options on how we could speed up vaccination – options including bringing in more vaccinators, supporting more hours at vaccination centres, bringing more facilities on stream, and offers of military support from the UK Government.
“I am acutely aware of the impact this crisis has had on peoples’ lives already, and so any steps that need to be taken to slow the spread will be as targeted and proportionate as possible. Cabinet will consider the options available on Tuesday, after which I will set out more detail to Parliament.”
Scotland recorded 26 new cases of the Omicron variant on Monday, taking the overall number to 186, while a further 3,756 Covid-19 cases were confirmed.
Addressing MSPs last week, Ms Sturgeon stressed it was “important to keep the need for any additional protections under daily review” because of Omicron which “may be significantly more transmissible than anything before”.
The First Minister said: “I do really hope we can avoid any further measures.
“I cannot guarantee this however, I don’t think any responsible person in my position could ever guarantee this at this stage.”
Speaking on Monday, Mr Yousaf told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “I think it’s inevitable that we will announce additional, protective measures.”
Ahead of the First Minister’s coronavirus statement to Holyrood, the Scottish Conservatives reiterated calls for mass vaccination centres.
Party leader Douglas Ross said: “For more than a month, the Scottish Conservatives have been calling for the reopening of mass vaccination centres to speed up the vaccine booster rollout.”
“It is mission critical that the booster jag programme accelerates to win the race between the vaccine and the virus.”
Scottish Labour’s health and Covid recovery spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said: “It’s clear we are in the most fragile position we’ve been in for months.
“We need to take the action needed now to save lives, protect livelihoods, and keep restrictions to a minimum this Christmas.
“This means ramping up the booster programme urgently to meet our new target, equipping Test and Protect to deal with the expected tsunami of cases we are facing, and supporting hard-hit businesses through this challenging time.
“We can’t shy away from difficult decisions if they are necessary – but all rules must be clear, consistent, and firmly rooted in the evidence.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “After pestering the Health Secretary for months we finally have an ambitious target for ramping up booster vaccines, but we also need to see frontline NHS staff given the additional resources they need, guarantees of financial protections for small businesses, particularly in hospitality, and measures to ensure that everyone who needs it can access mental health support during these difficult times.”
He also warned against any extension of Scotland’s vaccine passport scheme to cover more venues, claiming they “give people a potentially fatal false confidence”.