NEW Covid rules around self-isolation have come into force in Scotland, bringing the curbs in line with the rest of the UK.
However, from January 6 new cases will be advised they can end self-isolation if they do not have a fever and test negative on a lateral flow device (LFD) on day six and again at least 24 hours later.
In addition, household contacts of confirmed cases will no longer have to self-isolate for 10 days, instead taking lateral flow tests for seven days and isolating if any of these are positive.
This second change applies only to those aged under 18 years and four months and those who are fully vaccinated, including having had a booster jag, with others still having to isolate for 10 days and take a PCR test.
Ms Sturgeon also announced a further change to the rules so that those who test positive on a lateral flow device no longer need to take a PCR test to confirm the result if they have no symptoms.
Instead they must immediately isolate and report the result of their lateral flow test to allow Test and Protect to begin contact tracing.
The changes were announced on Wednesday as 16,103 new coronavirus infections were recorded in Scotland in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 999,324 since the pandemic started.
The First Minister warned that the sheer volume of cases means Covid-19 “still has the potential to overwhelm us”.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs taking part in a special virtual session of Holyrood on Wednesday that the changes are “significant and not completely without risk”.
She said: “When the Omicron variant started to take hold, we strengthened self-isolation requirements so that all household contacts had to self-isolate for 10 days.
“That step was intended to slow the spread of the variant.
“It also reflected the fact that we knew less about the severity of the virus at that time, and that less of the population had protection from booster and third jags.
“We are now in a very different position – and so we can now adopt different rules.
“These changes are significant, but we believe they are also justified at this phase of the pandemic.
“They balance the importance of self-isolation – in slowing the virus’s spread and reducing the harm it can cause – with the wider harms to the economy that broader self-isolation rules can cause.”
Describing the Omicron variant of Covid as being “extremely infectious”, the First Minister told how cases have risen 87% in the past week, with people in hospital rising by 80% in the same period to 1,223.
However, the number of people in intensive care is “remaining stable”, with 42 patients as of Tuesday night.
Scotland recorded a further five deaths in the past 24 hours of people who tested positive for the virus in the last 28 days, taking this total to 8,872.
Business leaders welcomed the new rules.
Scottish Licensed Trade Association managing director Colin Wilkinson said: “This will help relieve the pressure on staffing issues in the licensed hospitality industry – we have heard from some of our members that 30% of their staff are having to self-isolate while some premises have had to shut down completely as they have insufficient staff levels.
“This change has already been made in England, Wales and Northern Ireland so it makes sense for Scotland to follow the same path.”
The change comes as the Scottish Government works on a revised strategic framework for dealing with what the First Minister described as the “ongoing challenge of Covid”.
This is expected to be completed in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, a more detailed breakdown of the number of people in hospital because of Covid, and the number who are there for another reason but also have the virus, will be published on Friday.