A strict travel ban between Scotland and the rest of the UK will be kept in place over Christmas to try to stop a new variant of coronavirus from taking root, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
In addition, for three weeks from Boxing Day, the whole of mainland Scotland is to be placed into the strictest measures – Level 4.
Non-essential shops will close, along with cafes, restaurants and hairdressers.
Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and other island communities will move to Level 3.
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said Level 4 restrictions – in line with Tier 4 rules in England – will apply from Sunday, while bubbles will be confined to Christmas Day.
“The situation is incredibly serious,” he said. “We cannot expose people to the risk of this new, more virulent strain of
Nicola Sturgeon described the new variant of COVID-19 as the “most serious and potentially dangerous juncture” since the beginning of the pandemic.
Seventeen cases of the new strain of coronavirus have been found in Scotland, and it may be driving faster transmission in some hospitals and care homes, the first minister said.
“The bottom line we face is this: if we don’t act firmly and decisively, it will take hold here,” she added. Until now it has been mainly in southeast England.
Ms Sturgeon said the travel ban would cover the whole of the festive period, while previously announced household bubbles will now only be allowed on Christmas Day, as will travel within Scotland.
She added that she would be speaking to police and transport operators to see how the prohibition on anything except essential travel could be “strengthened”.
“I know how harsh this sounds”, she continued, adding that the virus is unfair and does not “care about Christmas”.
“In order to reduce the risk of more of the strain being imported, we intend to maintain a strict travel ban between Scotland and the rest of the UK,” Ms Sturgeon said in a news conference.
She added that the majority of schools in Scotland will not now return until 11 January, with online learning extended until the 18th.
There will, however, be an earlier return for the children of key workers.
There had been a UK-wide plan to ease measures between 23 and 27 December.
But Boris Johnson has also announced a toughening of measures – for millions of people across southeast England.
Have your Christmas plans been affected by Scotland’s travel ban?
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