Nicola Sturgeon limits gatherings to six amid ‘battle’ to control Covid-19

Nicola Sturgeon has told Scots they can now only meet in groups of six or under, as she conceded the country still faces “a battle to get and keep Covid under control”.

With coronavirus cases rising, the First Minister warned Scotland – like the rest of the UK and indeed the world – is “currently in a precarious position”.

As a result, she said she was forced to bring in new restrictions to guard against the further spread of the disease.

The crucial R number – the average number of people infected by each person with coronavirus – could now be as high as 1.5, Ms Sturgeon warned.

She confirmed Scotland is following the example of England, where a limit of six people for gatherings has already been announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Prior to the change in Scotland, up to eight people from three households could meet indoors, while outside as many as 15 people from five households had been allowed to gather.

But Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “I can confirm that we intend to change this, so that a maximum of six people from two households will now be permitted to meet together.”

She said there would be “some limited exceptions” to the new rule, covering organised sports and places of worship.

Children under the age of 12 will not count towards the limit of six people, with Ms Sturgeon also saying up to 20 people would be able to attend weddings, civil partnerships and funerals, as well as receptions and wakes.

The new limit will come into force legally on Monday, but Ms Sturgeon said people should follow “these stricter new limits on gatherings immediately”.

She stressed the new limit applies when people meet in restaurants, pubs and beer gardens, as well as in homes.

The First Minister also announced changes for the hospitality sector, making it mandatory for customers to wear face coverings “whenever they are moving around and not eating or drinking”.

It will also be made compulsory – subject to some exceptions – for staff in the sector to wear a face covering.

In addition, Ms Sturgeon pushed back reopenings which ministers had previously hoped would be able to go ahead from September 14.

Theatres, soft play centres and sports stadia will now not be able to reopen to the public again until October 5 – although pilot events which will see limited numbers of spectators attend two football matches this weekend will still go ahead.

Ms Sturgeon said the rise in Covid-19 cases – which increased by 161 in the past 24 hours to 22,039 – means putting these reopenings back is “the only responsible decision we can reach”.

Meanwhile, no date has yet been given for when non-essential offices and call centres can reopen, with this to be reviewed on October 1.

The First Minister accepted: “The announcements I have made so far are hard for people to hear.

“I know that after six long, hard months, we are still asking the public to make a lot of difficult sacrifices.”

But she said while Scotland is “currently in a precarious position”, she stressed it is “in a much better position than in late March”, with prevalence of the virus lower and the rise in cases “not as rapid”.

She insisted she is still working towards elimination of Covid-19.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Elimination is still, and must still be, our objective.

“But the reason we are being cautious again today is that we must continue to bear down on the rates of infection.”

However business leaders warned Scotland can “ill afford” a return to a strict lockdown, like that imposed in March, adding offices should be “allowed to open quickly”.

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “It is disappointing that we seem to have taken a step back in terms of compliance with guidelines while the virus has taken steps forward.

“We need to move forward to ensure our economy can recover and stem the loss of jobs where possible. That’s why we need our offices to be allowed to open quickly, particularly those where businesses have worked closely with employees and invested heavily in safety procedures.

“For the sake of our theatres, live music venues, soft play and indoor contact sports facilities, clear guidance on when they can reopen safely is also required quickly.”

She also said “effort and investment” is needed so testing facilities could be “expanded and properly resourced”.