It comes after the UK government unveiled the measure for England at the weekend and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wanted to see it introduced in the other nations of the UK.
Another 245 positive Covid-19 cases were reported in Scotland yesterday. Although this was down on the 350 cases from the previous day, it marked 5.45 per cent of people tested, which is above the World Health Organisation safety ceiling of 5 per cent. However, there were no new deaths in Scotland.
The prospect of fresh lockdown measures being introduced to stem the growing tide of virus cases looks increasingly likely, with details expected to be unveiled next week. The new legal duty and fines will be introduced in England from 28 September and requires people to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus or are traced as a close contact. Breaches will result in fines starting at £1,000 and rising to £10,000.
Ms Freeman stopped short of committing to a similar approach in Scotland. She said spot fines are already available to the police if people “knowingly and deliberately” break rules on self-isolation north of the Border.
Police can issue fixed penalty notices of £30, rising to £60, for those who break restrictions.
Ms Freeman added: “Whether or not we want to increase those will be part of the decision-making around what other measures we think we need to take. All of this is under discussion this weekend.”
But she said the policy risked “punishing” those who faced financial difficulties. In August, figures showed that people living in the most deprived areas were up to 12 times more likely to be given fines for flouting Covid-19 restrictions.
Ms Freeman said: “We will look at all the measures that are there to support people to do what we’re asking and any measures we think are necessary to deal with those who willingly and knowingly flout those guidelines.”
She added: “I think what you need to do is look at what are the obstacles in somebody’s way who wants to self-isolate, wants to do the right thing but may have difficulties in doing so. One of those will be financial difficulties, so there needs to be an extension to ensure that we can offer financial support before you start talking about punishing people for not doing something that they want to do.”
She added that she wanted to avoid “penalising” those on “fragile, zero-hour contracts” and low wages.
UK ministers are in discussion with the devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland about extending the fines UK-wide.
Announcing the new rules, Mr Johnson said: “The best way we can fight this virus is by everyone following the rules and self-isolating if they’re at risk of passing on coronavirus.
“And so nobody underestimates just how important this is, new regulations will mean you are legally obliged to do so if you have the virus or have been asked to do so by NHS Test and Trace.
“People who choose to ignore the rules will face significant fines.
“We need to do all we can to control the spread of this virus, to prevent the most vulnerable people from becoming infected and to protect the NHS and save lives.”
Ministers have also said people on benefits in England will be eligible for a one-off support payment of £500 if they face a loss of earnings as a result of being required to self-isolate.
While no new deaths were recorded in Scotland, the 545 new cases over Saturday and yesterday will heighten the prospect of fresh restrictions.
Across the UK, another 3,899 total confirmed cases of coronavirus were announced yesterday. There were also 18 deaths across the whole of the UK. In Scotland, the total number tested positive for coronavirus rose to 24,371. There were no further deaths, with the number thus remaining at 2,505.
This comes after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned “hard but necessary” decisions may be needed in the coming days to prevent another national lockdown.
Ms Freeman said there was evidence to show the steep rise in cases had been “blunted” following additional measures in some areas in the west but said there was still “real concern”, with a Scottish Government decision on potentially bringing in another lockdown “very shortly”.
She said: “We’re not seeing community transmission at this point but are seeing large clusters and outbreaks of cases in some parts of Scotland. So we’re working this weekend with scientific and clinical advisers to understand what might be the additional measures that we can put in place.”
She added that Ms Sturgeon had hoped to have a Cobra meeting of the four nations this weekend to discuss measures “to see if we could reach a shared view”, but Mr Johnson was still considering the request.
Pressed on exactly when the decision on lockdown measures may be made, Ms Freeman replied: “We certainly will have an announcement very shortly. Not necessarily today, but definitely by the early part of next week.”