Nicola Sturgeon has announced new lockdown rules, effective from midnight tonight until the end of January, with a legal requirement for everyone in mainland Scotland to stay at home except for essential purposes.
And the first minister announced that schools and nurseries will stay closed until 1 February, rather than 18 January as planned, with pupils learning online.
Ms Sturgeon’s announcement to an emergency session of the Scottish Parliament came as Boris Johnson resisted calls for an English lockdown amid rising figures of infections, hospitalisations and deaths driven by the virulent new variant of Covid-19.
Ms Sturgeon said that it was essential to act now to prevent infection rates soaring to the levels currently seen in London and the southeast. Scotland was currently around four weeks behind London on the curve of the pandemic, she said.
“Our overriding duty now is to act quickly to save lives and protect the NHS,” she said. “Delay or prevarication in the face of this virus almost always makes things worse, not better, even if it stems from an understandable desire to wait for more data.”
Ms Sturgeon said the new restrictions will apply to all of mainland Scotland, which is currently in tier 4, while island areas - other than Skye - will remain in tier 3 “for now”. Controls will be kept under review, but she said she could not rule out them being extended beyond the end of January.
The “fundamental advice” is for everyone to remain at home, with Scots allowed out only for essential purposes such as caring responsibilities, essential shopping, exercise and being part of an extended household.
Even if they do leave the house, they should “stay as close to home as possible and stay away from crowded places”, said the first minister.
Work will only be treated as a reasonable excuse to leave home it it cannot be done from home.
Ms Sturgeon asked every business to “look again at their operations and to make sure that every single function that can be done by people working at home is being done in that way”.
People who need to shield because of underlying health conditions are advised not to go into work at all, and the first minister said that this guidance would act as a valid “fit note” authorising absence from the workplace.
It remains the case that no-one is allowed to travel into or out of Scotland, except for essential purposes.
Separate restrictions coming into effect on Friday will close all places of worship during January for all purposes except broadcasting a service or conducting a funeral, wedding or civil partnership.
Up to 5 people will be able to attend weddings and civil partnership ceremonies and 20 people are allowed to be present at funeral services, but wakes are banned during this month.
Ms Sturgeon told the Holyrood assembly: “I know that the next few weeks will be incredibly tough.
“I’m sorry to ask for further sacrifices, after nine long months of them. But these sacrifices are necessary.
“And the difference between now and last March is that with the help of vaccines, we now have confidence that they will pave the way to brighter days ahead. So – for everyone’s sake and safety – please stick with it and stay home.”
She also returned to the public messaging from the March 2020 lockdown, saying: “Stay home. Save lives. Protect the NHS.”
CBI Scotland director Tracy Black said news of a national lockdown would be "a severe setback for Scottish companies trying to claw back losses from 2020 and vital trading over the Christmas period”.
“There’s now an urgent need for existing financial support to be unlocked, so companies can survive the spring and beyond, and for Holyrood to clarify guidance on what constitutes an essential business,” said Ms Black.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies