FOOTBALL matches will be limited to a maximum of 500 spectators until mid-January under new restrictions set to come into force in Scotland on Boxing Day.
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay street party has also been called off after the Scottish Government confirmed plans for strict caps on numbers at all large events, with the exception of weddings and funerals.
Pubs and restaurants will also be expected to reintroduce one metre physical distancing between separate groups of customers and to reinstate table service only to prevent crowding at bar areas.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, outlining the plans at the Scottish Parliament today, also urged the public to keep Christmas Day gatherings “as small as family circumstances allow” adding: “Make sure everyone does a test shortly before getting together. Anyone who tests positive should not mix with others.
“And given how infectious Omicron is, you should assume that if one member of a household is positive, the others are likely to be so too.”
From December 27 until the end of the first week in January, Ms Sturgeon urged the public to revert back to limiting social interactions.
She said: “Please stay at home as much as possible. When you do go out, please maintain physical distancing from people not in your group. And difficult though it is, please follow this advice over New Year – minimise Hogmanay socialising as much as you can.”
It came as she confirmed that the Omicron variant now accounts for one in three Covid cases detected in Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon also confirmed that a total of £375 million will be spent on business support to help traders adversely affected by guidance and measures designed to curb the spread of the highly-transmissible new strain.
From Boxing Day until January 16, Ms Sturgeon said the size of public events would be limited to a capacity of 100 people for indoor standing events, 200 for indoor seated events, and 500 for outdoor events that are seated or standing.
Physical distancing of one metre will also be required where these events proceed, said the First Minister.
She added: “This will of course make sports matches, including football, effectively spectator-free over this three week period.
“And it will also mean that large-scale Hogmanay celebrations – including that planned here in our capital city – will not proceed…the much higher transmissibility of Omicron means large gatherings have the potential to become very rapid super-spreader events, putting large numbers at risk of getting infected very quickly.
“Limiting these events helps reduce the risk of widespread transmission.
“It also cuts down the transmission risks associated with travel to and from such events
“And second, these large events put an additional burden on emergency services, especially the police and ambulance services.
“At a time when these services are already under severe pressure and also dealing with high staff absences, limiting large scale events will help them focus on delivering essential services to the public.”
Ms Sturgeon said it was a “priority” for the Scottish Government that schools re-open as normal after the Christmas break.
She added that the Government is also confident that it has “the capacity” to meet the target of administering boosters to 80% of eligible adults by the end of January, and urged anyone with an appointment booked for January to reschedule it for December instead.
She said: “We don’t yet know if the proportion of Omicron cases needing hospital care will be lower, higher or the same as with Delta. However, there is still no compelling evidence that Omicron is intrinsically milder than previous strains.
“However, even if the proportion of cases needing hospital care is lower, a smaller proportion of a much larger number of infections, will still have a deeply damaging impact. If large numbers of people become infected – even mildly – the impact on the economy and critical services through sickness and isolation absences will be crippling.
“We are already starting to see this impact. 100 Scotrail services were cancelled yesterday due to staff absence. Theatres are already being forced to cancel shows due to Covid cases amongst cast and crews.
“And – even more seriously – staffing shortages are already being felt across the supply chain, and they are exacerbating the intense pressures that the NHS and emergency services are working under.”
A further £175 million has been made available to the Scottish Government by the Treasury, in addition to £100m already ring-fenced by the Scottish Government to support businesses. Ms Sturgeon said an extra £100m had also been found from Scottish Government coffers, taking the total budget to £375m.
“I can confirm today that we will allocate all of this to business support,” she said.
It came as Jamie Jenkins, former head of health analysis for the Office for National
Statistics, said predictions by Government modellers of up to 6000 Covid deaths a day
across the UK in a worst case scenario “don’t seem to stack up”.
Mr Jenkins told the BBC that 600 per day – or 60 per day in Scotland – was “probably more plausible”.
He said: “This time last year, about 70% of all the admissions with Covid were in people over the age of 65.
“Now, with the vast majority of those already having had a booster vaccine and Scotland leading the way on this, I can’t see where all these hospital patients are going to come from to overwhelm the NHS.”
Covid cases have been rising in Scotland since November 27 – and since December 7 among the over-60s – but hospital admissions are continuing to decline.
During Scotland’s previous Delta waves in June and August, a rise in cases was reflected by a rise in hospital admissions seven to 14 days later.
Mr Jenkins, who has been tracking deaths against Omicron cases in South Africa, added: “The good news is we’re not seeing that [rise in deaths like we did in previous waves], and it kind of supports some of the stuff South Africa has been saying that this is less deadly but more transmissible.”