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Scotland reports record number of cases as Omicron takes hold | Scotland

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Scotland has detected a record number of 15,900 new Covid cases, with about 80% of those believed to be the highly infectious Omicron variant, Nicola Sturgeon has told MSPs.

In an emergency update to the Scottish parliament, the first minister said positive cases comprised 29% of all tests carried out on Tuesday. The previous Scottish record was reached on Sunday, when 11,030 new cases were reported.

Sturgeon said the Omicron variant was so infectious it was reasonable to assume there would be further “steep increases in cases in the days and possibly weeks ahead”.

She urged eligible adults to book booster vaccinations after disclosing that so far only 75% had received their booster or third doses. She hinted that the Scottish government may miss its target of getting 80% of adults boosted by Friday 31 December, a target date coinciding with Hogmanay.

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“Please don’t delay,” she said. “Every booster jab administered now is a step on the road back to normality.”

Sturgeon indicated the slowing pace of booster vaccinations had influenced the Scottish government’s decision not to cut the self-isolation period for close contacts from 10 to seven days – a measure introduced by the UK government in England.

Facing intense pressure from the Conservatives and Labour to reduce the self-isolation time to ease staffing pressures on businesses and public services, Sturgeon said a careful balance needed to be struck between helping businesses and suppressing the virus.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, said businesses across Scotland were struggling with high levels of staff absence and unable to plan ahead because of Sturgeon’s “dithering”. Some firms were shutting.

Big Hogmanay events, including Edinburgh’s street party and fireworks, and the Loony Dook swim at Queensferry, have been cancelled, with ministers urging revellers to remain at home or attend small parties.

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Sturgeon said neither the Welsh nor Northern Irish governments had cut the self-isolation period, which showed there were doubts it was the best course of action. Her government was offering £375m in emergency support to businesses, including £16m for bus companies, £27m to the cultural sector and £17m to the events sector, she said.

“If Covid continues to spread rapidly, the economic impact in the form of staff absences and diminished consumer confidence will be severe. We’re already seeing those impacts. So doing nothing won’t help business,” she said.

“We must protect public health and the economy together – by slowing the speed at which Covid is spreading, while we complete the booster programme.”

She said 679 people were in hospital, an increase of 80 on Tuesday’s total, with three deaths reported of people confirmed to have had Covid. Over the past week, the number of cases had risen by 47%.

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