Scots have been told to prepare for a “digital Christmas” this year and warned the idea of large family celebrations going ahead as normal is a “fiction”, as the Scottish Government considers a ban on Halloween guising.
Nicola Sturgeon said the country is “unlikely to be able to celebrate Christmas with no limits on the people in our houses” but stressed the public could see freedoms unlocked by adhering to coronavirus restrictions in the coming weeks.
The first minister was responding to comments by national clinical director Jason Leitch, who had earlier in the day told BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme that ongoing restrictions would end the chance of a normal festive period.
Professor Leitch said he was hopeful that by sticking to the rules, Scots could enjoy “some form of normality” over the winter break but people should not expect to have large gatherings involving multiple households.
Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon insisted Professor Leitch had used the term “digital Christmas” as “shorthand” for the different types of celebrations likely to be necessary this year.
She said: “What he’s trying to do is be frank with people about the reality we live in and not prematurely rule things out and equally not try to give people false assurance – that’s the really difficult balance we’re trying to strike right now.
“I want us to be able to celebrate Christmas as normally as it is possible to do within the context of a global pandemic. My message to people is the more we all stick with these really difficult restrictions right now, the more chance there will be of us doing that.”
Professor Leitch told the programme it was “too early to say” what festivities will look like, adding: “I’m hopeful cost now may get us a more family Christmas but Christmas is not going to be normal, there is absolutely no question about that.”
Ms Sturgeon was repeatedly forced to the clarify her scientific advisers comments during the briefing, something which led to criticism from opposition parties.
Scottish Conservative public health spokesman Brian Whittle pointed to a previous debacle involving comments made by Professor Leitch regarding students being allowed home for Christmas, and called on officials to choose their words carefully.
“Time and again, we’ve seen how important clear and concise communication is in controlling the spread of Covid,” Mr Whittle said.
“If the mess around students returning to university proved anything, it’s that when statements have to be changed and clarified after being made, it almost always leads to problems.”
Scottish Labour health spokesman Monica Lennon warned mixed messages “are undermining the national effort” and stressed that the words used by Professor Leitch, as “the face and voice of the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 response”, matter.
Ms Sturgeon, who joked that she could make Professor Leitch dress up as the Grinch for Halloween as punishment for his comments, said restrictions will likely still be in place across the world at Christmas.
The first minister also confirmed the Scottish Government is planning to publish fresh guidance on guising this weekend and expects children will be asked to celebrate Halloween without “coming into unnecessary contact with other people”.
She said: “It’s not safe right now to do these things as normal, and it would not be fair of me or right of me to say otherwise.
“To parents, to children; think of ways you can celebrate in a way that is safe and doesn’t have children or others coming into unnecessary contact with others.”
Meanwhile, it was announced the Scottish Government’s “strategic framework”, which will be published on Friday, will outline a new testing strategy that will see results returned faster in a bid to meet a capacity target of 65,000 tests a day.
Ms Sturgeon said to that to achieve the target, at least 10,000 more Scottish tests would need to be analysed by UK Government lighthouse labs, while the NHS laboratory capacity will increased by an additional 22,000 tests a day.
Three new regional hubs are being set up in Grampian, Lothian and Greater Glasgow and Clyde to help meet demand.
The latest Scottish Government figures showed 17 deaths and 1,712 positive tests were recorded overnight into Thursday. The number of people in hospital increased by 55 to 928, with 74 patients in intensive care.
Ms Sturgeon said the R number in Scotland – the average number of people each person with Covid-19 goes on to infect – is currently “perhaps as high” as 1.5.