Scotland’s First Minister urged people to “pull together and look after each other again” as she called on Scots to restrict their socialising to three households before and after Christmas amid rising Omicron cases.
In a televised broadcast, Nicola Sturgeon said she would not be asking for further sacrifices “if I did not think it essential for the health and well-being of all of us”.
She warned of a “steep and rapid rise” in Omicron cases, saying they could reach 15,000 a day, posing an “impossible” burden for the health service.
She said: “Omicron can do this through sheer weight of numbers. More people infected will lead to more people with serious illness and, tragically, more people will die.
“We are also already seeing an impact across the economy, and on public services.
“Staff absence caused by Covid means trains without drivers, classrooms without teachers, wards without nurses and businesses without workers.
“That’s why this is not a choice between protecting health and protecting the economy.
“If we don’t act now to protect health, Omicron will inflict untold damage on businesses and critical services across Scotland.”
“But in this race between the virus and vaccines, as we speed up their delivery, we also need to slow down the virus.
“Put simply, that means all of us having fewer contacts with fewer people – and making sure those we do have are safer.”
She reiterated the change she announced at the Scottish Parliament earlier to restrict socialising before and after Christmas to three households, but stressed this does not mean she is asking people to cancel plans for Christmas Eve to Boxing Day.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We are asking this because Omicron is so infectious. Our experience says if it gets into a group of people, it will infect many of them. So limiting numbers helps us restrict its spread.
“Speaking to you in these terms is the last thing I wanted to be doing a few days before Christmas.
“We’ve all had enough of this but the threat from Omicron is severe and we must respond seriously.”
Ms Sturgeon also spoke of changes for businesses through the legal requirement to reduce transmission leading to measures such as social distancing returning in supermarkets and financial support being provided.
She said: “This is another difficult juncture in the course of the pandemic but vaccines and home testing do put us in a better position than last year.
“And wearying though all this is, we are not powerless. So let’s pull together and look after each other again.”
She concluded: “In sending you my Christmas wishes, let me more than anything wish for all of us a happier and brighter new year.”