Scotland’s First Minister said a rise in cases is “virtually certain” and warned of a potential “tsunami of infections”, with modelling in a Scottish Government evidence paper showing infections could surge to as many as 25,000 a day in the worst case scenario.
At a glance 5 key points:
- Stricter isolation rules to come into force from Saturday
- New paper says rate at which Omicron cases double is between two and three days
- Variant set to become dominant strain in Scotland
- Worst case scenario sees 25,000 cases a day by 10 December
- Sturgeon to take part in Cobra meeting on Friday afternoon
What did Sturgeon say at her briefing?
Ms Sturgeon announced stricter isolation rules in response to the modelling during a coronavirus briefing, confirming that from Saturday household contacts will be asked to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status or a negative PCR test.
The rate at which cases of the new variant double is between two and three days, the paper said, and it is highly probable that Omicron will become the dominant variant within Scotland “very quickly”.
The upper range of the document’s worst-case scenario projection for the Omicron variant falls just short of 25,000 cases a day by December 20, while the most-likely range of the worst-case scenario will see cases hit a little over 15,000.
In the best-case scenario, cases will peak at just over 1,250.
Ms Sturgeon told the briefing: “The fact is, we do face a renewed and very severe challenge in the face of the new Omicron variant.
“To be blunt, because of the much greater and faster transmissibility of this new variant, we may be facing – indeed we may be starting to experience – a potential tsunami of infections.”
How many Omicron cases have been confirmed so far?
More than 1,000 confirmed, probable and possible Omicron cases have been reported in Scotland so far.
The First Minister said 5,018 positive cases of coronavirus were reported in the past 24 hours, adding: “This is one day’s figures, but as you can see it is a sharp rise on the average of around 2,800 per day that we have been reporting recently.
“It underlines our fear that a new wave may indeed be starting.”
She said Omicron is likely to become the dominant variant of Covid-19 in Scotland in “days, not weeks”.
Ms Sturgeon added: “Omicron right now is rising exponentially, indeed what we are seeing in the data just now is perhaps the fastest exponential growth that we have seen in this pandemic so far.
“If that continues, and we have no reason at this stage to believe that it won’t, Omicron is going to very quickly overtake Delta as the dominant strain in Scotland.
“Indeed, I think we can now say with some confidence that we expect it to overtake Delta within days, not weeks – we estimate this could be as early as the very beginning of next week.”
Even if the Omicron variant cases less severe illness than other strains, a “massive number” of patients may still need hospital care, Ms Sturgeon said.
She said “a smaller percentage of a bigger number will still result in a massive number of cases who might need hospital care”.
She added: “Given the volume of people who could be infected by Omicron because of its greater transmissibility, even if most of those cases are mild, the number of cases of serious illness will put massive strain on the ability of the NHS to cope.”
A “significant strain” will also be put on the economy given the number of people who would be required to self-isolate as a result of the transmissibility of the new variant, the First Minister said.
She also stressed that although evidence suggests Omicron can evade some immunity conferred by vaccines, people should still get jabbed.
Ms Sturgeon will take part in a Cobra meeting chaired by UK Government minister Michael Gove with the first ministers of the other devolved nations on Friday afternoon to discuss Covid-19 data and co-ordination on the response.
What has she said about schools?
The First Minister explicitly said further restrictions could not be ruled out during a coronavirus briefing on Friday, but despite the concerns over the new variant she pledged to do all she could to keep children in schools.
“I can’t stand here and say that no class will be disrupted and no school will have periods of disruption – what I’m talking about here is what we had before, which is blanket schools are closed,” she said.
“Nobody wants that. I will bust a gut and do whatever – even if people hate me for asking adults to do more than they want to do – to keep schools open in that general sense.
“Of course, if there are outbreaks of infections in schools then there needs to be a response to that, but I’m very clear about the importance of minimising the disruption to children’s education.”
If some classes are asked to self-isolate as a result of an outbreak, that would serve to ensure the rest of the school can stay open, the First Minister added.
At the onset of the pandemic, schools across Scotland and the rest of the UK closed to all but the children of key workers and those who were deemed to be vulnerable.
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