Around four per cent of Covid-19 cases in Scotland are likely to be the new Omicron variant, with that figure “steadily rising”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
Scotland’s First Minister said the “really concerning development” from the latest variant meant all current restrictions would remain in the country and further measures such as an extension to vaccine passports could not be ruled out.
Contact tracing will now be enhanced in Scotland, with household contacts of close contacts of positive cases told to test and isolate.
Ms Sturgeon told employers that if they had staff working from home at the start of the pandemic they should enable them to do so again until the middle of January.
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, she said there has been more than a tenfold increase in Omicron cases over the last week.
A total of 28 new cases were recorded in the past 24 hours, taking the overall number to 99.
“A still low – at around four per cent – but steadily rising proportion of cases also now show the S gene drop out that, as I said a moment ago, is indicative of Omicron,” she said.
“Our estimate at this stage is that the doubling time for Omicron cases may be as short as two to three days, and that the R number associated with the new variant may be well over 2.”
She added that she “would expect to see a continued and potentially rapid rise in cases in the days ahead and for Omicron to account for a rising share of overall cases”.
Ms Sturgeon said a variant that is “more transmissible than Delta, and which has even a limited ability to evade natural or vaccine immunity, has the potential to put very intense additional pressure on the health service”.
“The sheer weight of numbers of people who could be infected as a result of increased transmissibility and some immunity evasion will create this pressure even if the disease the new variant causes in individuals is no more severe than Delta,” she said.
She also urged Scots to follow rules around testing and self-isolation should they have symptoms, as well as regular lateral flow testing.
“I am not excluding myself from this,” she said.
“I am currently doing a test every morning before coming to work and I will do a test on any occasion I mix with others over the festive period. I will ask anyone visiting my home over Christmas to do likewise.”
Ms Sturgeon also urged MSPs to “lead by example” on testing and she urged the public to stick with restrictions.
“By doing that, we do give ourselves the best possible chance of enjoying a Christmas that is more normal, but also safe – and of avoiding a new year hangover of spiralling cases,” she said.