A planned easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas will be “slight and careful”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
But the First Minister said she is not expecting any relaxation of measures over the New Year period.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out the basis of plans later on Monday to allow small numbers of households across the UK to mix during the holidays – but the First Minister said the details have yet to be finalised.
She said it is “likely” extended household bubbles will be allowed over Christmas.
Decisions to ease restrictions over the festive period are a “particularly difficult balance to strike” and have split public opinion, she said.
Ms Sturgeon added: “Reducing the prevalence of the virus is also what will allow us to consider a slight and careful – and I want to stress today those words ‘slight’ and ‘careful’ – easing of the rules for a few days over the festive period.
“There is an obvious desire to see loved ones at Christmas, I think we all feel that very strongly.
“There’s also a lot of anxiety about the potential risks associated with that, particularly at a time when we’re starting to see, perhaps, the end of this pandemic loom on the horizon.
“So we’re trying as hard as we can to reach a sensible balance, although it is possible – likely, in fact – that some households may be able to form slightly larger bubbles with each other for a short period over Christmas.
“We’re considering this because we recognise that isolation and loneliness can hit people particularly hard over the Christmas period.”
Ms Sturgeon revealed the restrictions on gatherings will affect her own family’s plans for Christmas Day.
She said: “My usual family Christmas is having my parents, sister and kids and my husband’s mother, sister and kids to our house so we don’t tend to go to others.
“That’s a gathering that has reduced a little bit over the years with death and suchlike but it is more than 10 people.
“We will not be doing that this year – absolutely not – because I think that would be outwith any kind of reasonable limits and I don’t want to put elderly parents or mother in law at risk so we will not do that.”
Ms Sturgeon also disclosed the last time she saw her parents was July 19 – the day of her 50th birthday.
Pondering whether she would see her parents this Christmas, she added: “I don’t know, I will think about that carefully, from their point of view more than from mine.”
Ms Sturgeon said there is a recognition that – given the nature of Christmas and pressure people may feel to spend time with family members who may be alone over the period – some may “try to push the boundaries” of restrictions.
She said rather than allow that to be “uncontrolled”, the Scottish Government is trying to build in flexibility during the holidays.
Speaking during the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 update on Monday, the First Minister announced East Lothian will move from Level 3 to Level 2 of coronavirus restrictions from Friday.
“Last week we indicated that East Lothian and Midlothian – if there was no deterioration in their positions – would, from tomorrow, move down from Level 3 to Level 2,” she said.
“I can confirm that this will go ahead for East Lothian. However, the national incident management team has expressed some concern this morning about a rise in cases and test positivity over the past few days in Midlothian.
“So we will be considering that further this afternoon and we will confirm the position in relation to Midlothian later.”
Ms Sturgeon said the “overwhelming majority of local authority areas will remain in the current level” of restrictions.
The First Minister will deliver a statement updating the restrictions to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.
Currently, 11 council areas are at Level 4 – the highest tier of restrictions for Scotland.
The latest coronavirus figures for Scotland show 949 people tested positive for coronavirus in the past 24 hours, with no new deaths recorded.
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