THE First Minister issued a clear warning over relaxed Covid Christmas restrictions after the four nations decided the bubbling plans will go ahead without change.
Public health experts had said the plans, allowing people across the UK to form bubbles with two other households between December 23-27, would cause major issues in the new year.
But it was announced this afternoon that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had decided the legislation would not be changing.
READ MORE: Relaxation of coronavirus rules over Christmas to go ahead despite warnings
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing, Nicola Sturgeon stressed it is her “strong recommendation” that people remain in their own household.
Below are the First Minister’s full comments following the announcement.
The final point I want to cover today, and I want to take a little bit of time on this, is arrangements for Christmas.
I took part in four nations discussions yesterday, and again this morning, with the UK Government, and the governments of Wales and Northern Ireland.
These discussions – the fact they have happened – reflect that, in parts of the UK, cases are rising again, and in some parts of the UK, rising quite rapidly.
Now, Scotland’s case levels remain at the moment lower than in the other nations, but even so, we can’t be complacent and we need to consider the evolving situation.
We intend to issue updated guidance later today, and we hope that this will be agreed in a four nations basis. That is what we are working towards and those discussions are continuing, so they have not, at the time I came down to do this briefing, concluded yet.
But I want today, because I know there is intense and understandable interest in this, so I want to just run through some of the principles the Scottish Government is working on.
Firstly, the pragmatic considerations that led us to agree some limited flexibility over Christmas have not gone away.
We recognise that, in some cases, the isolation caused by being alone over Christmas will, in itself, cause harm to people’s welfare and we understand that some people will simply not be prepared to leave loved ones alone over the whole Christmas period, perhaps especially on Christmas day.
I also recognise that some people will have already made plans for Christmas. It’s for those reasons that we decided, across the four nations, to give people some clear boundaries around the Christmas period rather than seek to prohibit any interaction altogether or, on the other hand, risk everyone just trying to set their own boundaries.
On balance, we – and I – think that is the right approach to take. So we don’t intend to take away the flexibility.
That, in my view, wouldn’t be fair at this stage, and it wouldn’t be realistic either. It may risk undermining, rather than strengthening, compliance with the overall Covid guidance.
However, we in the Scottish Government do intend to strengthen the guidance we give to people about whether, and how, we should make use of the flexibility.
The guidance in Scotland is already a bit tighter than elsewhere, but we hope we can come to a four nations agreement on a clear and united message to the public.
But let me be clear, not all of what I’m about to say right now is yet agreed with other nations, and I cannot and would not try to speak for them but I wanted to set out for you the key elements of the advice that the Scottish Government has been and will continue to give over the period ahead.
Firstly, and unequivocally, the safest way to spend Christmas this year for you and those you love is to stay within your own household, and your own home. My strong recommendation is that this is what you should do if at all possible.
Any interaction you do have with another household should, if at all possible, be outdoors – but if you do consider it essential to meet indoors with someone from another household, you should limit both the duration and the numbers as much as possible.
This is the point I want to stress in particular. The five-day relaxation is a window of opportunity during which you can meet. It’s not a period in which we think it is safe or sensible to get together for.
You should see it as a maximum, not a target. My recommendation is that if you do form a bubble, you should not meet up with people in it any more than on one day in that period, if possible, and you should not stay overnight unless it is unavoidable.
You should also limit numbers as far as possible – three households is a maximum that tries to account for the fact that families come in all shapes and sizes, but two would be better. In short, if you have to form a bubble, keep it as small as possible.
In Scotland we have already advised a limit of eight people, and I recommend that you stay firmly within that if you do feel the need to form a bubble, and again, the smaller, the better.
And lastly, we will recommend against travel from high-prevalence areas to low-prevalence areas of the UK. We’ll issue more detail on that shortly.
Also, as I stressed on Monday, if you are intending to form a Christmas bubble you should already be trying to reduce any unnecessary social contacts.
And this year, for most people, all of what I’ve just run through will be the safer choices to make and I would encourage everybody to think very carefully about that.
If you haven’t made plans to form a bubble yet, please don’t. If you’re still swithering, please decide against. And if you have made plans, but think they’re not really essential, perhaps think about postponing until later in the year.