Scotland Cancels Public New Year Events As New COVID Rules Announced

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Nicola Sturgeon today canceled large-scale New Year celebrations in Scotland as she unveiled additional coronavirus restrictions to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

The Scottish First Minister said the advice for Christmas Day remains unchanged, with people allowed to meet with family but urged to be cautious.

But from December 26 for three weeks there will be attendance limits placed on live public events which will torpedo Hogmanay festivities.

The limits will not apply to private life events like weddings, but Sturgeon said for indoor standing events the limit will be 100 people, for indoor seated events it will be 200, and for outdoor events 500 seated or standing.

This will mean that from Boxing Day football and other sporting matches in Scotland will effectively be spectator-free.

Sturgeon also said that from December 27 the Scottish Government is advising people to return to limiting their social contacts ‘as much as you possibly can’ while a table service-only requirement will be reimposed on hospitality venues serving alcohol, lasting for an initial period of three weeks.

The moves will pile the pressure on Boris Johnson after he yesterday delayed making a decision on imposing new coronavirus curbs in England as ministers wait for key data to be given to them today.

Johnson is under pressure from his scientific experts to act now but there has been heavy criticism of the claim from SAGE modelers that deaths could reach 6,000 a day in a worst-case scenario, and although daily cases have been rising sharply and topped 100,000 on December 15 they are still short of the levels feared.

Sturgeon appeared to fire a shot at the Prime Minister as she said ‘we know from experience that if we wait until the data tells us conclusively that we have a problem… it will already be too late to act to avoid that problem’.

Her announcements came after Rishi Sunak unveiled a £1billion bailout for stricken businesses as Johnson sits on the fence over Covid curbs amid infighting among ministers and top scientists.

The Chancellor has announced grants of up to £6,000 for hospitality and leisure firms being crippled by a wave of cancellations following the emergence of the Omicron strain.

The taxpayer will also cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for companies with fewer than 250 employees.

The move – which was given a broad welcome by industry – comes despite the PM declaring last night that there will be no more restrictions in England yet, defying massive pressure from experts who warn the NHS is at risk of being overwhelmed by the mutant strain.

Johnson admitted the decision was ‘finely balanced’ – with speculation that the government could still need to act with a ‘circuit breaker’ before New Year if new crucial evidence due today and tomorrow show the situation deteriorating quickly. They include an assessment from an Imperial College team on the severity of Omicron.

However, it now looks too late to bring in any legal restrictions before December 25, with the premier having vowed to give restive MPs a say in advance.

Johnson said the latest Omicron data will be kept under ‘hour by hour’ review, with the holding line coming after a long and ‘fractious’ Cabinet meeting, where ministers including Sunak demanded more solid proof on the threat from the Omicron variant before signing off on further measures.

The PM is expected to be handed more data on the impact of Omicron today amid questions over the accuracy of SAGE modeling.

Leading statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter has pointed out that around half of new Covid admissions in Omicron hotspot London only tested positive after arriving at the hospital, possibly for a different ailment – although he stressed they would still add to pressure on the health service.

Official figures out today revealed that Covid was mentioned on 764 death certificates registered in England and Wales in the week to December 10 – 4 per cent down from the previous week and the lowest level since October.