Nicola Sturgeon has vowed she will not shy away from tough decisions following the emergence of the new Omicron strain of Covid-19 in Scotland.
The mutated coronavirus variant could lead to a winter “tougher than most of us have ever experienced”, she told the SNP conference.
While the First Minister said the current numbers of new infections meant Scotland is in a better position than she had dared to hope for, she issued a plea for Scots to “redouble” their efforts against coronavirus to maximise the chance of a “more normal Christmas”.
With six cases of the new Omicron strain having already been discovered in Scotland, Ms Sturgeon, along with her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford, has called for tighter travel restrictions to stem the spread of the new variant.
Domestically, Ms Sturgeon also told her party conference that she would not “shy away” from taking unpopular decisions if she believed they would help keep people safe.
In her virtual speech, the SNP leader said winter poses “big and very real challenges” for tackling coronavirus but hoped to see renewed compassion and the “spirit of solidarity” experienced so far during the pandemic.
Stressing that “this is the time to be more vigilant, not less”, Ms Sturgeon said: “Life today is much more normal than it was when I spoke to you a year ago, we have come so far and – while it has not been easy – a spirit of solidarity with, and compassion for, each other has helped us through.
“Now, as the emergence of the new Omicron variant has reminded us, we must harness that spirit again as we prepare for a winter that might be tougher than most of us have ever experienced.
“In recent weeks, we have had much in Scotland to feel thankful for. Compared to many countries across Europe, Covid cases here have been stable – indeed they have been declining slightly.
“To be frank, that’s a much better position than I had dared hope for a couple of months ago but there are big and very real challenges ahead over the winter months.”
She added: “While I still hope it will not be necessary, if difficult decisions need to be made to keep us safe, we will not shy away from them.
“Steering the country through this winter is my priority. It is my duty.
“But no government can fight a virus alone, we all need to play our part.
“That was true before the detection of Omicron, and it is even more so now.”
Ms Sturgeon recommended that Scots should take coronavirus tests every time before going out to meet people from other households over the festive period, and said that getting vaccinated “is the most precious gift we can give this Christmas”.
She continued: “But there is one more really important festive effort I am asking everyone to make and – once again – the emergence of Omicron makes this even more vital.
“Lots of people with Covid don’t have symptoms – they might never know they have the virus and so spread it inadvertently. That’s why we’ve been asking everyone to test with lateral flow devices twice a week.
“But from now, through the festive period, we are asking you to test much more.
“Please – even if you are feeling fine – test yourself on each and every occasion you intend to mix with people from outside your household.
“That means before you go to the pub, or to a restaurant, or to someone’s house, or even to a shopping centre. And, if the test shows up positive, do not go.”
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