Leaving the house in Scotland is now illegal after the country was thrown back into lockdown this morning after fears over the pandemic eclipsed those of last year.
The hardline crackdown, announced by Nicola Sturgeon, includes the legally enforceable stay-at-home rule.
It came after she described the current pandemic situation as the most concerning since March last year.
And this morning her deputy John Swinney confirmed police will take enforcement action on those breaking the rules.
He said: ‘There will be restrictions for a substantial period. We’ve set out our position for the course of January and we came to that conclusion because of the words you quoted from the First Minister.
‘We are more concerned about the situation in Scotland than we have been at any stage in the pandemic so far. That’s come about because of the acceleration of the virus as a consequence of the new variant.
‘We’ve had to take these measures, we very much regret that we’ve had to take these steps and we appreciate the burden that this places on individuals within society but it’s the right thing to do to protect the public’.
John Swinney, MSP Deputy First Minister and Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon
Exercise and essential journeys will be the only reasons why people will be allowed to leave their homes.
The planned reopening of schools on January 18 is also being pushed back to February 1 at the earliest while workers are being instructed to work from home wherever possible.
Rules on outdoor gatherings will be tightened to allow a maximum of just two people from two households to meet.
Mr Swinney added to Sky News the vaccine rollout will be a part of Scotland’s response to the virus, but doubles down that people should be staying at home to try and suppress the virus.
‘You know, the police are not going around individual house checking on individuals, nor are they stopping cars routinely on the street for weather or not journeys are essential.
‘But the fact this has been put into law is an important indication of the seriousness we need people to take and we need them to follow.
‘If people follow these restrictions, we will be successful as we were in the spring of last year in significantly reducing the prevalence of the virus.’
He continued: ‘Having said that, Police Scotland are taking enforcement action, there was action taken on a very significant scale the other day in relation to people clearly flouting the regulations and it’s important that Police Scotland take that action when they judge operationally that’s the right thing to do.’
Boris Johnson to address the nation tonight at 8pm
Boris Johnson will unveil new measures to tackle the mutant coronavirus in an address to the nation tonight amid calls for a national lockdown.
The PM is set to make a televised statement on the ‘next steps’ in the crisis at 8pm, with Parliament being recalled on Wednesday.
Announcing the dramatic move, a No10 spokesman said: ‘The spread of the new variant of COVID-19 has led to rapidly escalating case numbers across the country.
‘The Prime Minister is clear that further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the NHS and save lives. He will set those out this evening.’
Earlier, ex-health secretary Jeremy Hunt joined demands for an immediate national lockdown with schools and borders shut and a ban on all household mixing.
Mr Hunt warned that mutant Covid has put the NHS under ‘off the scale’ pressure compared to normal winters and the government ‘cannot afford to wait’ even one more day.
Mr Johnson confirmed this morning that ‘tougher’ measures were coming – but hinted he might stick with the Tier system in England rather than taking a blanket approach.
Meanwhile, places of worship will be closed from this Friday but weddings and funerals will still be allowed to go ahead.
A maximum of 20 people will be allowed to attend funeral services and a maximum of five people will be allowed to attend weddings.
Ms Sturgeon said yesterday the tough new curbs are necessary because of the ‘steeply rising’ rate of infections north of the border as she warned the lockdown could be extended beyond January if necessary.
The measures effectively mean a return to the restrictions seen during the first UK-wide lockdown which was imposed at the end of March last year.
All of mainland Scotland is already placed in the highest tier of Covid-19 rules but infection numbers have prompted Ms Sturgeon to take more drastic action after 2,464 new cases were announced yesterday.
The move by Ms Sturgeon will inevitably prompt speculation that England could also soon return to a state of lockdown, with Boris Johnson due to address the nation this evening.
On another grim day of coronavirus chaos:
Ms Sturgeon set out the terms of the new lockdown in an address to a recalled Scottish Parliament.
It is just the fifth time ever that Holyrood has been recalled from holiday and the second time within the last four weeks after it sat on December 31 to consider Mr Johnson’s Brexit trade deal with the EU.
She said the situation facing Scotland is ‘extremely serious’ and that the spread of a mutant variant of the disease had struck a ‘massive blow’.
She warned Scotland is seeing a ‘steeply rising trend of infections’ and she is ‘more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year’.
Nicola Sturgeon, pictured in a visit to Western General Hospital in Edinburgh in December, said the latest lockdown in Scotland will last for the whole of January
Matt Hancock says he is ‘incredibly worried’ about super-infectious South African coronavirus mutation
Matt Hancock today revealed he is ‘incredibly worried’ about the highly-infectious South African coronavirus mutation which top experts fear could scupper Britain’s vaccine roll-out.
The Health Secretary warned the variant — which has already been identified in the UK — posed a ‘very, very significant problem’.
His comments came after one of the Government’s coronavirus advisers yesterday claimed there was a ‘big question mark’ over whether any of the current wave of jabs could protect against the mutant strain.
Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, argued the South African variant was more concerning than the Kent one because it has ‘pretty substantial changes in the structure of the protein’, meaning vaccines could fail to work.
Covid vaccines — including the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford University/AstraZeneca jabs currently being rolled out across Britain — work by training the body to spot the virus’s spike protein.
If the spike mutates so much that it becomes unrecognisable then it could render vaccines useless or make them less potent.
However, the current vaccines are believed to be effective against the Kent strain which is causing a massive spike in cases across the UK.
She said: ‘I can confirm now in summary that we have decided to introduce from midnight tonight for the duration of January a legal requirement to stay at home, except for essential purposes.
‘This is similar to the lockdown of March last year.’
All of mainland Scotland is currently in Protection Level 4 – the highest tier in the Scottish government’s coronavirus rules system.
Level 4 restrictions ban separate households from mixing inside homes while a maximum of six people from two separate households are allowed to meet outdoors.
All pubs and restaurants in level 4 areas have had to close apart from for takeaways and all non-essential shops have had to shut.
Ms Sturgeon said the rise of the more infectious strain of the disease meant that ‘the current level 4 measures may not be sufficient to bring the R number back below 1’.
She said that as a result the country must accept a ‘return for a period to a situation much closer to the lockdown of last March’.
Ms Sturgeon said the new lockdown rules ‘will be in place for the whole of January’ and the Scottish Government will keep them ‘closely under review’.
But she said she ‘can’t at this stage rule out having to keep them in place longer, nor rule out making further changes’.
‘Nothing about the current situation is easy,’ she told MSPs.
Ms Sturgeon said the main plank of the latest lockdown strategy is to advise everyone to stay at home as much as possible.
‘That is the single best way of staying safe,’ she said.
‘We consider that this stay at home message and advice is now so important that from tomorrow it will become law, just as it was in the lockdown last year.
‘This means it will only be permissible to leave home for an essential purpose. This will include, for example, caring responsibilities, essential shopping, exercise and being part of an extended household.
Ms Sturgeon’s announcement of a new lockdown for Scotland will inevitably prompt speculation about whether Boris Johnson will follow suit in England
Catching Covid DOES make you immune to symptomatic reinfection for at least 6 months, study suggests
People who have previously caught Covid-19 are immune to developing symptoms if they come into contact with the coronavirus again, a study suggests.
Researchers scrutinised data from more than 11,000 healthcare workers at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals (NUTH) NHS Foundation Trust.
Staff were encouraged to get a Covid-19 test if they developed any symptoms and others were recruited to take antibody tests to gauge disease prevalence.
Of these, more than 1,000 either had coronavirus antibodies or tested positive via a PCR swab between 10 March and July 6 2020, during the UK’s first wave of the virus.
The researchers specifically focused on how many of the 1,038 hospital staff who had been infected previously went on to develop symptoms and test positive during the autumn second wave, defined as being between July 7 to November 20.
Only 128 such people reported developing coronavirus-like symptoms in this window but none of them tested positive for Covid-19.
‘In addition, anyone who is able to work from home must do so. It will only be a reasonable excuse to leave your home to go to work if that work cannot be done from home.’
Ms Sturgeon said the frequency of outdoor exercise will not be limited but outdoor gathering rules will be tightened.
‘As of now, up to six people from two households are able to meet outdoors,’ she said.
‘Given the greater transmissibility of this new variant we consider it necessary to restrict that further.
‘From tomorrow a maximum of two people from up to two households will be able to meet outdoors.
‘Children aged 11 and under will not be counted in that limit and they will also be able to play outdoors in larger groups including in organised gatherings.’
The Scottish First Minister said existing travel rules will continue as she urged everyone to ‘stay as close to home as possible’ and reiterated that no one is allowed to travel into or out of Scotland unless it is for an essential reason.
Ms Sturgeon said it was a matter of ‘real regret’ that places of worship will have to close from this Friday.
‘I know how devastating restrictions like these ones are and I give an assurance that we will not keep them in place for any longer than is absolutely necessary,’ she added.
On the issue of schools, Ms Sturgeon said the aim is to resume face-to-face learning from February 1 and that the return date will be reviewed in the middle of January.
Vulnerable children and the children of key workers will still be able to attend school in person.
‘There is no doubt at all that of all the difficult decisions we have had to take today this was the most difficult of all and its impact is of course the most severe,’ she said.
Ms Sturgeon likened the current situation to a running race between the mutant variant of the disease and the UK’s vaccination efforts.
She said she hoped the lockdown will give the vaccine the ‘time it needs to get ahead and ultimately win this race’.
‘I know that the next few weeks will be incredibly difficult and I am sorry to ask for further sacrifices after nine long months of them but these sacrifices are necessary,’ she argued.
‘The difference between now and last March is that with the help of vaccines we now have confidence that these sacrifices will pave the way to brighter days ahead.’
It came as the UK Government yesterday began its roll-out of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.
In the biggest UK mass vaccination drive ever, half a million doses of the jab will be made available for vulnerable people this week with ‘tens of millions’ promised by April.
AstraZeneca has previously suggested up to two million doses a week could be ready by mid-January.
But Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London and a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said it could take longer to hit that number.
He told Good Morning Britain: ‘Due to capacity issues it may be we don’t get to those levels until February for example. The earlier we can vaccinate people the better and the sooner will be able to control this.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘This is a pivotal moment in our fight against this awful virus and I hope it provides renewed hope to everybody that the end of this pandemic is in sight.’