Nicola Sturgeon branded a 'grinch' over Scotland restrictions
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Almost 30,000 cases of coronavirus were reported over the festive weekend in Scotland, with Boxing Day seeing the highest number recorded since the start of the pandemic at 11,030. These numbers were a first look at the impact of the festive season, warned Ms Sturgeon, and could be influenced by a lag in recording new cases as well as slower turnaround times for testing. Wednesday’s briefing, expected at 14.00, will be a more comprehensive look at the data after the Christmas weekend.
The First Minister said ahead of Wednesday: “While these figures are provisional, the steep increase in cases we have been expecting is now materialising, and this reflects the significantly increased transmissibility of Omicron.
“We would expect to see case numbers rise further in the days ahead – though it is worth bearing in mind that they are likely to have been even higher but for the compliance of the public with the guidance issued in the run-up to Christmas.
“These figures underline how important it is that we don’t underestimate the impact of Omicron – even if the rate of hospitalisation associated with it is much lower than past strains of the virus, case numbers this high will still put an inevitable further strain on NHS.
Jason Leitch, the clinical lead for Scotland, estimated that 85 percent of COVID-19 cases in Scotland are infections of the new Omicron variant.
In response to the rapid spread of Omicron Scotland reimposed a number of coronavirus measures on Boxing Day, along with Wales and Northern Ireland.
Limits on large events came into force on December 26, including a cap of 100 people at indoor standing events and 200 people at indoor seated events.
The following day saw the closure of nightclubs, a one-metre distance rule for hospitality and no more than three households in a group.
The measures enraged the hospitality industry in Scotland, with Scottish ministers accused of excessive caution in putting the measures back in place.
This anger from pubs, restaurants, and other businesses relying on steady flows of customers was heightened by their reliance on New Year’s Eve trade.
After the First Minister announced the restrictions, William Lees-Jones, owner of JW Lees pubs, responded by barring Ms Sturgeon from his premises “for life”.
He said the restrictions would hit the already struggling hospitality sector hardest of all, warning that many businesses could fold for good.
The businessman told Manchester Evening News: “The reshuffling of bookings and New Year, that’s going to send some businesses over the edge.”
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Ms Sturgeon said: “This level of infection will also cause a significant and severely disruptive level of sickness absence across the economy and critical services.
“So even though we are all thoroughly fed up with the impact of Covid on our lives, it is really important that over the New Year period we follow guidance to help slow the spread of the virus while we complete the accelerated booster programmes.”
New Year’s Eve celebrations have largely been cancelled in accordance with the new rules, including the annual Edinburgh Hogmanay festivities known for attracting tourists from all over the world.
The First Minister specified: “Large-scale Hogmanay celebrations – including that planned here in our capital city – will not be able to proceed.”
Ahead of the Christmas weekend, Ms Sturgeon had appealed to Scots to follow recommended advice, rather than legal restrictions.
She told Scottish Parliament a week before Christmas Eve: “Before and immediately after Christmas, please minimise your social mixing with other households as much as you can.
“However, if you do plan on socialising – either at home or in indoor public places – we are asking that you limit the number of households represented in your group to a maximum of three. And make sure you test before you go.”
Wales and Northern Ireland also brought in renewed restrictions after Christmas Day, with Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford announcing that, as of Boxing Day, nightclubs will be shut and the rule of six reinstated.
A maximum of 30 people can now attend indoor events and 50 people can gather at outdoor events.
Nightclubs also shut their doors in Northern Ireland, with a new ban on indoor standing events.
The rule of six also made a reappearance for those in Northern Ireland.
England is the only UK country to not impose fresh COVID-19 curbs following the record case numbers reported over the festive weekend.
England recorded 117,093 cases for Tuesday 28 December, which breaks the previous record of 113,628 for Christmas Day.
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