Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon under pressure to cut self-isolation rules as she prepares to update Holyrood

Nicola Sturgeon is under increasing pressure to urgently cut the self-isolation period in Scotland as she updates MSPs on the latest Covid situation today.

Holyrood is being recalled from its festive break to allow the First Minister to outline the most recent data on the spread of the Omicron variant.

Jason Leitch, Scotland' s national clinical director, said he hoped Scotland could avoid any “dramatic” changes to existing restrictions.

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Provisional data indicates a record number of Covid cases over Christmas, with December 25, 26, 27 and 28 seeing the highest daily totals since the start of the pandemic.

Business groups have called for an urgent reduction in the self-isolation period to help firms struggling with staff shortages.

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) said that “at a minimum” it wants Scotland to align with England, where people can stop self-isolating after seven days if they test negative twice.

However, the organisation said if there is evidence it is safe to reduce the isolation period to five days, as the US has done for asymptomatic cases, it would "welcome serious consideration of this by the Scottish and UK governments to reduce the pressures being placed on businesses and staff".

Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the SCC, said: "Scotland’s businesses want to see an urgent reduction to the current ten-day self-isolation period, which is having a detrimental impact on business operations and the wider economy.

“It’s essential that the Scottish Government give businesses clarity now on when they intend to review these rules and how quickly any reduction will be implemented.

“Employers are struggling to keep businesses open due to staff self-isolating and those who can open are seeing undue pressure placed on employees who are backfilling for absent colleagues.

“It’s important for Scotland’s businesses, employees and our economic recovery that the self-isolation rules in place are reduced as soon as possible and brought into line with those in place in England."

Stephen Montgomery, of the Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG), said some businesses were having to shut because of a lack of staff.

He said the SHG would also like to see Scotland cut its self-isolation period to match that in England.

Speaking before Christmas, Ms Sturgeon said she hoped “over the next days, certainly the next couple of weeks, we will start to move to a more proportionate system in terms of self-isolation”.

Elsewhere, Mr Montgomery raised concerns Scots are being driven away from the "controlled environments" of bars and restaurants and into the "uncontrolled environments" of house parties over Hogmanay.

Limits on public events in Scotland were brought into force on Boxing Day, effectively cancelling large Hogmanay events.

Meanwhile, table service and one-metre distancing have returned for hospitality venues and nightclubs have closed for at least three weeks.

Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “Much remains unknown about where we stand in relation to Omicron, but there is cautious optimism with recent studies into the severity of this new strain of the virus.

“We are seeing an increase in case numbers, which you would expect given how transmissible Omicron is, but thankfully we are not yet seeing a similar rise in hospital admissions.

“Businesses and jobs continue to be substantially affected, particularly in hospitality and retail, and I expect both the Scottish and UK governments to work together to provide certainty and financial support.

“The SNP must use this update to confirm whether they will change self-isolation requirements in line with the latest evidence, to stop staff absences piling yet more pressure on businesses and services this winter.

“We also need reassurance that the SNP have a real plan to keep schools safe and open next term.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives said it was "clear from case numbers that we must remain vigilant to limit the spread of Omicron".

She said: "But current restrictions have put Scottish businesses at the brink of collapse.

“We need to see a faster roll-out of support packages for sectors that have been heaviest hit by the pandemic.

"For small businesses this funding could mean the difference between surviving or not.”

Asked about further restrictions on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme yesterday, Mr Leitch said: "I hope we can get away without anything too dramatic on top of what we’ve already done.”

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