Scots have been told to stay at home and mix only with their own household “if at all possible” this Christmas, after the Scottish Government introduced tough new guidance for families over the festive season.
Nicola Sturgeon said it is “unequivocally” the safest option for people to avoid mixing indoors wherever possible and only to do so for a maximum of one of the five days when measures are relaxed from December 23 to 27.
The current rules state people will able to mix in groups of up to eight across three households but the first minister said any interactions with people from other homes should ideally take place outdoors and only in “essential” circumstances.
However, there will be no change to the legal position on easing restrictions in Scotland and Ms Sturgeon said she has “no intention” of taking away flexibility for families who find themselves at the extreme end of the measures.
The new guidance in Scotland:
- Stay at home and within your own household “if possible”.
- Meet outside if you have to meet another household.
- Only meet indoors in “essential” circumstances.
- Limit the duration of any meeting and the number of people involved.
- Only meet up for a maximum of one day and do not stay overnight.
The new position comes after intense discussions between the UK’s four nations, following warnings that existing advice could lead to a third wave of Covid-19 and overwhelm the already stretched NHS.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon said if people consider it “essential” to meet indoors with individuals from another household, “you should limit both the duration and the numbers as much as possible”.
The first minister stressed the five-day limit was a “maximum, not a target” and she wanted to “rectify” the idea that flexibility around restrictions means people can do what they want within the limits.
“I’m very clearly saying, in my view, within that five days if you have to meet with another household, don’t do that on any more than one day,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“Keep the numbers as low as possible, keep the duration as short as possible. If you can do it outdoors, do it outdoors. We’re trying to make what people may do anyway as safe as possible.
Joining the First Minister today is Interim Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nicola Steedman. https://t.co/NmwTClpnIY
— Scottish Government (@scotgov) December 16, 2020
“But be in no doubt that my central recommendation to people is: if at all possible, you should celebrate this Christmas in your own home, in your own household. That’s the safest way for you and your loved ones.”
Christmas dinner ‘risky’
Ms Sturgeon said the government recognises that in some cases the isolation of being alone at Christmas could in itself cause harm to people’s welfare and that some would not be prepared to leave loved ones alone throughout the festive period.
But Dr Nicola Steedman, Scotland’s interim deputy chief medical officer, warned it could be “risky” for people to have Christmas dinner because of the amount of time and contacts typically involved in a family meal.
She said: “It’s indoors, it’s involving food, potentially with people sharing things, it’s multiple people, it may not be ventilated well inside your home and it may take quite a long time if it’s anything like my usual Christmas dinners.
“So that’s the science, but we also know there’s emotion attached to that. All we can do is tell people the truth. All we can do is give people guidance, and people will make an informed decision.”
Ministers have been locked in talks over how to approach Christmas amid growing concerns about a new strain of the virus first detected in the south of England. Nine cases of the new strain have now been identified in Scotland.
Concerns about Christmas triggering an acceleration of infections were also raised by two leading medical journals. The Health Service Journal and the British Medical Journal warned people might see it “as permission to drop their guard”.
Speaking shortly before the first minister took to the podium in Edinburgh, Boris Johnson told MPs at Westminster that the four nations had “unanimously” agreed to keep the relaxed rules but would be issuing stricter guidance.
However, that message was immediately undermined as Wales confirmed people from two households, rather than three, would be allowed to meet under its guidance.
Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford confirmed the changes would be set in law in Wales as he announced non-essential shops will close on Christmas Eve ahead of a full lockdown four days later.
Scotland will publish guidance advising against travel from any area of the UK currently in the highest level of local restrictions, such as tier three in England.
Speaking later at a Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson urged the public to “exercise extreme caution” because “a smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas”.
The prime minister added: “This Christmas it’s vital that everyone exercises the greatest possible personal responsibility and having looked at the latest data with our colleagues in the devolved administrations, we have decided that the overall situation is alas worse and more challenging than we had hoped when we first set the rules.
“So while it would not be right to criminalise people who have made plans and simply want to spend time with their loved ones, we are all, collectively across the UK, governments at every level, asking you to think hard and in detail about the days ahead and whether you can do more to protect yourself and others.”
Scotland recorded a further 689 new cases of the virus into Wednesday, as well as the deaths of 38 people who had tested positive, taking the total by that measure to 4,173.
Separate figures published by the National Records of Scotland showed 6,092 people had died with confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19 as of Sunday.