Scotland has recorded the highest number of Covid cases to date “with some margin,” the Prime Minister said.
However, Nicola Sturgeon said there were “grounds for optimism,” saying the rapid rise in infections in recent weeks did not appear to translate into a corresponding increase in hospital admissions.
She said there would be no immediate changes to the restrictions in place or advice given to the public, but said the government was carefully weighing the risks and benefits of reducing the self-isolation period from 10 days.
She said: “We hope to make decisions next week with changes taking effect from January 5.”
A total of 15,849 cases were reported yesterday, representing 28.9% of all tests performed.
READ MORE: Deputy Prime Minister urges Scots not to travel to England to take advantage of more lenient restrictions
She said the much higher test positivity rate in recent days “may be partly explained” by people being more selective about when to get tested during the Christmas season.
However, she added: “This is by far the highest total number of daily cases reported in the pandemic to date.”
In total, 679 people are hospitalized with the Covid, 80 more than yesterday while 36 people are in intensive care, one less than yesterday. Three other deaths have been reported.
“It is clear that the Omicron wave that has been predicted is now developing rapidly,” the prime minister said.
Omicron now accounts for 80% of all cases, and over the past week the number of reported cases of Covid has increased by 47%.
She said transmission rates were not yet entirely evident, adding: “So it is reasonable to assume that we will continue to see a sharp increase in cases in the days and possibly weeks to come.”
However, she said the current rise would be even higher “but for so many following advice to cut back on social interactions as Christmas approaches”.
She said: “Considering the speed and extent of transmission, it is now vital that we continue to take reasonable precautions.”
She said there were “grounds for optimism” because studies had shown that Omicron’s risk of hospitalization is potentially significantly lower than that of other strains of the virus.
“It is encouraging that, at least so far, the increase in cases recorded in recent weeks has not translated into a corresponding increase in hospital admissions or occupancy rates.
“On the contrary, the number of people hospitalized with Covid has remained broadly stable.”
READ MORE: PCR tests “unavailable” in Scotland
However, she said the number of hospitalizations with the virus in England “is increasing quite sharply” which could be an indicator of things to come in Scotland.
She said: “Of course, in terms of numbers, the benefits of a lower hospitalization rate could quickly be outweighed by the much higher number of cases.”
She said a clearer picture would emerge over the next two weeks, including the breakdown of patients hospitalized due to Covid and those hospitalized for other illnesses who also have the virus.
She said previous figures had indicated that around 70% of people hospitalized with Covid were there because of the virus and not because of other health issues.
In response to reported shortages of appointments for PCR tests, she said an administrative error resulted in a reduction in slots, but said Scotland and Wales were the only areas in the UK where there was availability and that staff shortages due to Covid would also contribute.
She said the Scottish government would also allocate priority slots to essential workers, including healthcare and transport workers as well as those who are clinically vulnerable.
She said 75% of those eligible for a booster or third dose had now received one and the government hopes to reach a target of 80% by January 1 and added: “We certainly have enough ability to achieve the goal. ”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross reiterated his call for isolation times to be reduced from 10 days to seven days for those who test negative twice and for an end to family contact before isolate themselves if they are negative.
He said the move continued to hurt businesses, which suffer from widespread staff absences due to self-isolation requirements.
He said: “We had a groundbreaking study showing that while Omicrom is more transmissible, it is also less severe.
“What additional information does the Prime Minister need to take the step of self-isolation that we have been asking for weeks?
‘Businesses across Scotland are struggling – at what is expected to be their busiest time of the year – both with the impact of restrictions and the Prime Minister’s indecision over auto rules. isolation.
In response, the Prime Minister said that while evidence suggests the hospitalization rate associated with Omicron could be significantly lower than other variants, she said a huge volume of cases could negate this effect.
She said even the authors of those studies warned against “getting carried away.”
She said: “If we release people from isolation when they may still be infectious, yes that will relieve some of the pressure on the economy, but it will be short-lived if the risks we take accelerate. the virus.”
She acknowledged that companies were grappling with staff absences, but said it was the virus, not the self-isolation rules that were the problem.
READ MORE: Will the period of self-isolation be reduced from 10 days to seven days in Scotland?
She urged the public to continue taking precautions, including reducing socialization, limiting contact to three households, testing regularly, booking a booster and working from home where possible.
“It’s been another tough year – but despite these new challenges, I think 2022 will be better,” she said.
The Scottish government introduced new measures on Boxing Day, which included a physical distance of one meter during major events, with limits of 100 people standing inside, 200 people seated inside and 500 people outside outside.
New rules on social gatherings then went into effect on Monday, with meetings limited to three households in indoor and outdoor locations like bars, restaurants, theaters, cinemas and gymnasiums.
Table service has also been made compulsory in places where alcohol is served, and nightclubs have been ordered to close again for at least three weeks.
The new Scottish rules mean Hogmanay events will be canceled, while the Scottish Premiership’s winter break has been brought forward to avoid staging football matches within the new attendance limits. The current restrictions will remain in place until at least January 17.
The Prime Minister said the Scottish Government has allocated £ 375million to support businesses with £ 16million distributed to public transport providers, £ 27million to the culture sector and £ 17million to the events sector.
A further £ 32million will be allocated to hotels and leisure, including £ 10million to ‘worst affected’ businesses.
She said the government was also working with the sports sector to provide support and said business financial support was proportionately higher in Scotland than in England or Northern Ireland and said the money would begin to flow to businesses as quickly as possible.
She said: “I know how difficult all of this is for business. But there is just no easy trade-off between protecting the health and protecting the economy.”
The Scottish Deputy Prime Minister told New Year’s revelers planning to travel to England amid more relaxed Covid restrictions that this would be the “wrong course of action”.
John Swinney said that while there is nothing preventing revelers from heading south of the border, where nightclubs are always open, for their celebrations in Hogmanay it would go against “the spirit” of the regulations put in place by the Scottish Government.
Mr Swinney said the current set of restrictions would be reviewed on January 11, but warned that “people can see with their own eyes the galloping pace at which Omicron is moving across Scotland”.
Nightclubs are also closed in Wales and will be closed in Northern Ireland on New Years Eve.