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Nicola Sturgeon has denied being "far too gung-ho" in imposing tougher Covid restrictions over the festive period, as her deputy insisted secondary school pupils must continue to wear face masks.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, challenged the First Minister to admit she had gone "too far" by banning crowds of more than 500 people at large events, imposing social distancing in leisure premises and reintroducing table service in pubs.
He recalled how Ms Sturgeon had complained before Christmas of wanting to go further and impose even more measures, but that she had been prevented from doing so by a lack of Treasury support.
Mr Ross said the evidence showed Ms Sturgeon had "got the big decisions wrong over the last few months", after the UK Government dealt with the omicron variant in England without imposing the same restrictions.
In addition, he said she had been too slow to launch mass vaccination centres as the variant hit Scotland, reduce self-isolation rules from 10 to seven days and get financial support out to businesses.
Ms Sturgeon insisted her "cautious" approach had contributed to hospitalisation rates being far lower than forecasts of 50,000 new cases per day by mid-January. However, the omicron variant has been found to be far milder than delta.
The First Minister said the latest Office for National Statistics data showed case rates were 20 per cent higher south of the border.
However, the headline figure from the latest ONS survey, covering the week to January 15, said one in 20 people in both Scotland and England had the virus.
The row at First Minister's Questions over whether Ms Sturgeon had gone too far intensified as John Swinney said the Scottish Government would not abolish the requirement for face masks in classrooms.
Parent groups and a leading virologist have called for secondary pupils to be allowed to ditch masks after the rules were changed in England on Thursday.
But Mr Swinney told Holyrood's Covid-19 committee: "The Scottish Government is absolutely crystal clear that the requirement to wear face coverings in public spaces, on public transport and in secondary schools remains absolute."
Ms Sturgeon has previously admitted restrictions are less effective with omicron thanks to its increased transmissibility. This week, she announced that the remainder of the measures she imposed over the festive period are to be lifted on Monday.
She disclosed this week that Scotland's omicron wave had actually peaked in the first week of the new year, with case levels now dropping rapidly.
Mr Ross said: "The First Minister imposed restrictions that had a massive impact on jobs, businesses and people’s mental and physical health.
“But we can now see they weren’t needed. It was the Scottish public’s actions, not the SNP Government’s restrictions, that got this right.
“The First Minister has tried to build a reputation for caution during this pandemic - but she was far too gung-ho in imposing restrictions last month. The Government went too far."
He said her "wrong calls" on restrictions were compounded by her government's failure to pay compensation that had been promised to affected businesses, with some firms "still waiting for a single penny of support".
Ms Sturgeon replied: "We're taking a sensible approach through this, which is why infection levels - though dropping now thankfully in all parts of the UK - are lower in Scotland than they are in England right now. Over the festive period, the numbers of people in hospital proportionately were lower.
"We're not out of the woods yet, but I'm going to continue to take a cautious approach, because, frankly, the price of throwing caution to the wind is not paid by governments. The price of throwing caution to the wind is paid by people across the country in terms of ill health and sadly, in some cases, serious illness and death."