Nicola Sturgeon announces Boxing Day lockdown and festive travel ban


Indoor mixing will only be allowed on Christmas Day – and most of Scotland will be put into the highest level of lockdown from Boxing Day, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The Christmas "bubble" policy has been scaled back, with indoor household mixing only allowed on Christmas Day rather than the previously-announced five days.

Up to eight people from three households will still be allowed to gather indoors on December 25, but Ms Sturgeon said her "strong advice" was to spend Christmas alone.

A "strict travel ban" will also be imposed between Scotland and England over the festive period – including Christmas Day.

Ms Sturgeon said she will speak to police and transport operators to see how this can be "strengthened".

The First Minister said the measures were necessary to try to tackle a new, faster-spreading strain of coronavirus and limit more of the variant from entering Scotland.

All of Scotland will enter Level 4 – the toughest of the county's five tiers of restrictions – for three weeks from one minute after midnight on Boxing Day morning.

Non-essential shops will close as will cafes, restaurants and hairdressers.

Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and other Island communities will move to Level 3.

Schools will open for keyworkers as normal, but the majority of pupils will not return from January 11, with online learning until at least January 18.

The First Minister said the move will prevent more of the new strain entering Scotland from other parts of the UK and reduce the risk of it spreading within the country.

Speaking at an emergency coronavirus briefing on Saturday evening, Ms Sturgeon said the new strain of the virus is the "most serious and potentially dangerous juncture" faced since the start of the pandemic.

"Given the concern we know have about this new strain, we know intend to change the law to allow indoor mixing in a bubble on Christmas Day only from a minute past midnight on Christmas Day to midnight going into Boxing Day," Ms Sturgeon said.

She continued: "We will allow Christmas Day to go ahead but as we have said from the start: only use this flexibility if you really, truly need to.

"This new strain makes that message all the more important.

"Our advice is still not to meet indoors, even on Christmas Day, with other households if you can possibly avoid it.

"If you had people travelling to join you for Christmas from elsewhere in the UK, that will no longer be permitted.

"Equally it will no longer be permitted for any of us to travel to anywhere in the rest of the UK for Christmas."

Ms Sturgeon said delivering the news "makes me want to cry", and said: "I share that sense of fatigue and demoralisation about this."

She added: "If it wasn't for this new strain, I wouldn't be standing here right now announcing this because our case levels right now – because of the Levels approach we've taken – are actually quite stable.

"This is preventative action because we know there is a more-rapidly transmitting strain out there and so we're acting preventatively.

"Everything we've learned about this virus says that you do that – you act quickly and don't have regrets later, and that's what we're seeking to do."

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

With Scotland having the lowest case rate in the UK – with 112.6 cases per 100,000 of the population below the 571.7 in Wales, 219.6 in England and 174.9 in Northern Ireland – Ms Sturgeon said the changes to restrictions were "purely preventative".

Without acting firmly, the new strain could lead to the NHS being overwhelmed and more people dying from the virus, she warned.

A total of 17 cases of the new strain had been identified in Scotland and may be driving faster transmission of Covid in some hospitals and care homes.

In the past 24 hours, 41 deaths from coronavirus and 572 positive tests have been recorded north of the border, though the test positivity rate fell from 4.2% to 4.0%.

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