Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon warns of 15,000 Omicron cases a day

THE First Minister has warned Scotland could see up to 15,000 Omicron Covid cases a day as she called on the public to restrict their socialising to three households before and after Christmas amid rising Omicron cases.

In a televised broadcast, Nicola Sturgeon said she would not be asking for further sacrifices “if I did not think it essential for the health and well-being of all of us”.

She warned of a “steep and rapid rise” in Omicron cases, saying they could reach 15,000 a day, posing an “impossible” burden for the health service.

She said: “Omicron can do this through sheer weight of numbers. More people infected will lead to more people with serious illness and, tragically, more people will die.

“We are also already seeing an impact across the economy, and on public services.

“Staff absence caused by Covid means trains without drivers, classrooms without teachers, wards without nurses and businesses without workers.

“That’s why this is not a choice between protecting health and protecting the economy.

“If we don’t act now to protect health, Omicron will inflict untold damage on businesses and critical services across Scotland.”

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Scotland recorded 110 new cases of the variant in the 24 hours up to yesterday, taking the overall number to 296, with two people in hospital confirmed to have the strain.

Ms Sturgeon added: “This winter, just as we thought we had turned a corner in the pandemic, the emergence of Omicron struck us a cruel blow.

“Omicron is much more transmissible than previous strains, and it is now spreading very quickly.

“We anticipate a steep and rapid rise in cases. We don’t know yet if Omicron’s impact on individual health is milder than variants like Delta.

“Some have suggested it might be, and let’s hope so. But there is not yet strong or consistent evidence of that. And even if it is the case, the challenge Omicron poses is real.

“When we are facing, as we may be, thousands upon thousands of cases per day – perhaps as high as 15,000 or more – even if just one in every hundred of those cases needs hospital care, the burden on the health service quickly becomes impossible.

“Omicron can do this through sheer weight of numbers. More people infected will lead to more people with serious illness and, tragically, more people will die.”

She also spoke of plans to speed up vaccinations with over 18s across Scotland able to book online for boosters from Wednesday, adding: “Boosters are how we will beat this.

“But in this race between the virus and vaccines, as we speed up their delivery, we also need to slow down the virus.

“Put simply, that means all of us having fewer contacts with fewer people – and making sure those we do have are safer.”

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She reiterated the change she announced at the Scottish Parliament earlier to restrict socialising before and after Christmas to three households, but stressed this does not mean she is asking people to cancel plans for Christmas Eve to Boxing Day.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We are asking this because Omicron is so infectious. Our experience says if it gets into a group of people, it will infect many of them. So limiting numbers helps us restrict its spread.

“Speaking to you in these terms is the last thing I wanted to be doing a few days before Christmas.

“We’ve all had enough of this but the threat from Omicron is severe and we must respond seriously.”

Ms Sturgeon also spoke of changes for businesses through the legal requirement to reduce transmission leading to measures such as social distancing returning in supermarkets and financial support being provided.

She said: “This is another difficult juncture in the course of the pandemic but vaccines and home testing do put us in a better position than last year.

“And wearying though all this is, we are not powerless. So let’s pull together and look after each other again.”

She concluded: “In sending you my Christmas wishes, let me more than anything wish for all of us a happier and brighter new year.”

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