Rules allowing people to meet up at Christmas in Scotland are likely to be tightened when they are set out on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The UK Government and devolved administrations have agreed a joint plan to relax social distancing rules over the festive period, allowing three households to mix from December 23 to 27.
The First Minister said staying at home should be the “default” position but the easing of restrictions to allow households to gather over Christmas is a “recognition of a reality that exists over the Christmas period, whether I like it or not”.
Scotland’s national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch added the prevalence of coronavirus will “almost certainly” rise as a result of allowing more households to mix over Christmas.
During a Covid-19 briefing on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon said guidance about the festive period to be issued on Thursday is still being finalised but the Scottish Government will not be “encouraging” people to meet up.
She said: “The expectation should be that the guidance will probably look to tighten around the edges rather than further expand and that will be true with the travel window of opportunity as well – we want to limit that window, not expand it.”
Ms Sturgeon said in England, due to the current form of bubbles there, “three households there, potentially, depending on how they draw the guidance, could effectively become six households”.
The First Minister added: “I think that would be going too far and it would not be something I would be comfortable with in Scotland.”
Scotland currently has a different form of bubbles than England – north of the border, one person who lives alone or with children under the age of 18 can join another household and become an extended household.
Ms Sturgeon asked Scots not to visit relatives in other households over Christmas if they can help it, despite the relaxation of rules.
“If you can get through this Christmas staying in your own home, within your own household, please do so,” she said.
“I want to stress today that just because we’re allowing people to form a bubble (that) does not mean that you have to do it,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“If you do choose to do it at all, you don’t have to do it to the maximum permitted.
“We are relying on people to make informed choices about whether or not to come together at all over the Christmas period.”
Asked about modelling of the impact of the Christmas relaxation on gatherings, Prof Leitch suggested it is too complex to forecast at this stage.
But he added: “If houses mix, risk goes up. If houses mix, we will almost certainly see a rise in prevalence.
“We want that to be as low as it possibly can and we particularly want to protect those most at risk of the virus.”
Scotland has recorded 44 coronavirus deaths and 880 positive tests in the past 24 hours, Ms Sturgeon said, bringing the total number of fatalities under daily measures to 3,588.
But data released by the National Records of Scotland show 5,380 people have died with confirmed or suspected coronavirus since the pandemic began.
Ms Sturgeon said: “These are all difficult things to live by. As we head towards Christmas all of this will feel even more difficult – and that is saying something – than it has over these past eight months.
“As we go through this tough winter and tough festive period for all of us, let’s keep our eyes on that light that is getting brighter almost every day that passes right now that is there on the horizon.
“The end is in sight, let’s not forget that as we keep ourselves motivated through the remainder of this pandemic.”