Further coronavirus restrictions may “potentially” be needed before Christmas to curb the spread of Omicron, John Swinney has warned as a health expert advised the country needs “to be ready for the worst case scenario”.
Professor James Chalmers said the measures First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has now put in place to restrict household mixing may slow the spread of the Omicron variant, but they are not enough to reverse the rise in infections.
Ms Sturgeon has told Scots that gatherings should be limited to no more than three households, with this advice coming after people were told to cancel work Christmas parties.
Meanwhile businesses are being urged to put measures in place to “step up” protections against the virus.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, he said: “Voluntary measures like this hopefully will slow down the growth in the Omicron variant, which is rising at an alarming rate in Scotland, but measures like this aren’t going to turn around the case growth we have seen.
“I think the Government need to be ready next week, as we get more data on the vaccine protection against severe disease and other gaps that currently need to be filled in terms of our knowledge, to think about what other measures may be required.
“If this is as bad as we think it is going to be, there may still be other measures required over the Christmas and the new year period.
“The modelling looks like in the worst case scenario we could have a really difficult winter, and we can’t allow the health service to be overwhelmed.
“We need to be prepared and we need to prepare the public that we may require further restrictions.”
His comments came as Mr Swinney said people should not cancel trips to the pantomime – but should apply caution if they are considering travelling on a football supporters’ bus, or allowing their child to attend a birthday party in someone else’s home.
He added: “The primary purpose of the guidance we set out yesterday is to encourage people to reduce their social interaction.
“We know that large groups of households mixing can be ready sources of the spread of coronavirus, and what we’re trying to say to people to, where possible, reduce their social interaction on either side of the formal Christmas period so we can all enjoy that formal Christmas period with those that we love.”
With Omicron now “spreading at a very alarming rate”, he urged people keep social activities “in balance”.
Mr Swinney said: “People aren’t going to the pantomime every night, they are going to the pantomime once over the Christmas period and people will be looking forward to that.
“We’re saying go ahead with that safely, but try to then temper the amount of social interaction you have with multiple households on other occasions.”
Speaking about children’s parties inside homes, he said he would “encourage people to take the greatest of care about household mixing”.
He added: “The guidance says we should minimise the number of people we meet up with, so obviously a child’s party involves multiple households in a household, and that can be quite a congested environment.”
Mr Swinney said the guidance announced on Tuesday is expected to be in place over Hogmanay and into the new year.
But when asked if more restrictions could be put in place before Christmas, he added: “Potentially that could be the case, but we want to avoid that.
“We hope we have done enough in the announcements that were made yesterday and we hope members of the public and businesses will work with us in a co-operative spirit to make sure we can take these provisions forward.”
Scotland has recorded 265 new cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the past 24 hours, taking the overall number to 561, the latest figures show.
The statistics published by the Scottish Government record 5,155 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours and 22 deaths, taking the total number of deaths to 9,746.
However, statistics also published on Wednesday by the National Records of Scotland – which include suspected or probable cases of Covid-19 – suggest a total of 12,303 people have died with the virus.