PARTY TIME: Scots urged to limit Christmas socialising to three households

Prime Minister Boris Johnston and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

By Bill Heaney

People in Scotland have been asked to limit socialising to three households at a time in the run-up to Christmas amid concerns over the Omicron variant.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the advice would not apply on Christmas Day [Boxing Day and whatever day you plan to have your main Christmas celebration get together on] and that plans should not be cancelled.

But she said people should reduce their social contacts with other households “as far as possible”.

This is going to mean that people planning a few Christmnas holiday days away during which they will take up residence with others, even family, will feel their activities will be restricted.

Firms will also be encouraged to bring back physical distancing and screens in shops and hospitality venues.

However, the good news for the hospitality trade was filtering through from Westminster that that the owners of pubs, clubs and hotels and other entertainment venues will be compensated for the losses they sustain.

The First Minister said the Tory government cash would be supplented by by the SNP/Green government here to the tune of £200 million “from our own resources”.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that Scotland is facing a “likely tsunami” of new infections of Covid-19 in the weeks ahead, with a “very significant” impact on health services.

Meanwhile the Treasury said it would make extra funding available to devolved governments to accelerate the vaccine rollout and tackle the virus.

Ms Sturgeon said £100m would be used to help businesses in hospitality and food supply chains which have been hit by advice to cancel work Christmas parties.

And the government is working to identify new mass vaccination centres as part of a push to offer a booster jab to all adults by the end of the month.

Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that the Omicron variant is “spreading very rapidly” in Scotland, with cases “increasing exponentially” and doubling every two to three days.

She said that even if the new strain proves milder than the previously dominant Delta variant, the fact it spreads much faster could still put “significant” pressure on health services.

The first minister said action was needed “in the face of a threat that is very real”.

In the runup to and period immediately after Christmas, people will be asked not to socialise in groups larger than three households at any given time.

This will not be enforced in law, but Ms Sturgeon said guidance would be issued to “cut down as far as possible the number of people outside our own households that we are interacting with just now”.

People have not been asked to cancel their Christmas day plans and places of worship will remain open, but Ms Sturgeon said advice would be issued “to help you make Christmas safer”.

She said it be would be “sensible” to “keep your celebrations as small as your family circumstances allow” and make sure everyone involved is vaccinated and has taken a Covid-19 test.

Meanwhile a new legal requirement will be imposed on businesses to take measures to reduce the spread of transmission.

These will include the return of measures to reduce crowding in shops and at bars, physical distancing and the use of protective screens.

And it will again be a legal requirement for employers to enable staff to work from home where possible.

A media release from the Treasury has just revealed that additional funding from the UK reserve will be made available to the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to progress their vaccine rollout and wider health response, the UK Government confirmed today. 

It states: “While the devolved administrations are well-funded to continue their response to Covid-19, and have their own reserves and contingency funds, any additional in-year Barnett funding will not be confirmed until early 2022 through the Supplementary Estimates process. HM Treasury has therefore announced that additional funding will be made available to the devolved administrations to provide greater certainty and allow them to plan as they tackle Covid-19 during the crucial weeks ahead.

“HM Treasury will set this amount of additional funding in the coming days and will keep it under review in the following weeks.

The UK Government has already provided the devolved administrations with an extra £12.6 billion through the Barnett formula this year – this includes £1.3 billion confirmed at the recent Autumn Budget and takes their total funding this year to £77.6 billion.

This is on top of UK Government spending on vaccines and tests for the whole of the UK and UK-wide support for businesses and jobs.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak, left,  said:  “Throughout this pandemic, the United Kingdom has stood together as one family, and we will continue to do so.

“We are working with the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to drive the vaccine rollout to all corners of the United Kingdom and ensure people and businesses all across the country are supported.”

If the amount of funding provided up front to each devolved administration is more than the Barnett consequentials confirmed at Supplementary Estimates then any extra amount will be repaid in 2022-23, or over the Spending Review period if necessary.

If the Barnett consequentials are higher than the amount provided up front the devolved administrations will keep the extra funding.

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