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Covid in Scotland: Relaxing of rules 'not expected' at Hogmanay

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Nicola Sturgeon says progress is being made in talks on easing Covid rules at Christmas - but does not expect a similar relaxation at Hogmanay.

Scotland's first minister said a deal on a UK-wide approach to Christmas would be announced later in the week.

She said the plans would need to be "sensible and careful" to prevent a fresh wave of new cases in January.

And she added: "I do not expect that we will be announcing any particular relaxation over the new year period."

On Monday night Ms Sturgeon confirmed plans to move Midlothian from level three to level two had been postponed due to an increase in case numbers.

But an improving picture in East Lothian will see the local authority move to level two from 06:00 on Tuesday.

Earlier, responding to a question at her daily briefing, the first minister addressed the intense speculation surrounding the festive period.

Ms Sturgeon said: "We can't do everything. The Christmas thing is hard enough.

"Why Christmas and not new year? Well, maybe Christmas is a more important time for the kids.

"I think for most of us, even if we value new year, Christmas is still the time when families are more likely to not have someone on their own. So we can't do everything right now."

media captionFM: No plans to relax restrictions for Hogmanay

The easing of rules at Christmas is expected to see "a small number of households" allowed to meet up over "a small number of days".

Talks on the issue were held between ministers from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the UK government on Saturday.

The BBC understands that one option under consideration is that three households could be allowed to meet up for five days over the festive period.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been hoping to announce arrangements for the Christmas period on Monday, but this has been delayed until at least Tuesday to allow the Scottish and Welsh cabinets to agree the plans.

Any announcement is also expected to include rules on travelling between nations.

Ms Sturgeon said talks were "making progress", but stressed that "details of this approach are still to be finalised".

image copyrightPA Media
image captionEdinburgh's traditional Hogmanay street party has been cancelled this year

She said: "This is a particularly difficult balance to strike. If my email inbox is anything to go by, public opinion on this is quite mixed, as you would perhaps expect.

"There is an obvious desire to see loved ones at Christmas, but there is also a lot of anxiety about the potential risks associated with that - particularly at a time when we are perhaps starting to see the end of this pandemic loom on the horizon."

The first minister said the deal would likely see "some households able to form slightly larger bubbles over a short period".

However, she said this "has to be on a very limited basis" - focusing on gatherings in people's homes rather than in hospitality settings.

image copyrightPA Media
image captionExperts have raised concerns about relaxing restrictions over Christmas

Ms Sturgeon said isolation and loneliness could "hit people particularly hard over the Christmas period".

But she said people should "think very carefully" about whether they need to travel or meet up indoors.

She added: "The virus won't take Christmas off. If you provide it with opportunities to spread from household to household, it will take them.

"Just because you might be able to mix a bit more doesn't mean you have to do that if you don't think it's necessary, or if you can get though Christmas without it."

Jillian Evans, head of health intelligence at NHS Grampian, told BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme that she was against restrictions being eased "simply because it's Christmas".

'The best present'

She added: "It certainly sounds as if that it's a trade-off - that you behave now, keep transmission low, then we might be able to do something over Christmas that resembles something familiar to us.

"The best Christmas present we can give to people is to keep them safe - it really is the bottom line.

"The best way to keep safe is to try and avoid the risk as much as possible and if you must meet family, which most of us are longing to do, try to do it outdoors if you possibly can - and fingers crossed we get a dry and less windy and wet Christmas time."

image copyrightReuters
image captionMinisters are considering allowing some household mixing over Christmas

Last month John Keenan, the bishop of Paisley, called for a Christmas "truce" - a 24-hour lifting of restrictions - to give people a "moment of joy in the midst of so much despair".

Reacting to news of the four-nations discussions, he told BBC Scotland he was glad politicians were considering some way of accommodating Christmas during the pandemic.

But he admitted he was "conflicted".

"The thought of my mum - who's a widow - being on her own all through Christmas day is an awful thought for me," he said.

"On the other hand the thought that I might go there and pass on a virus to her is equally awful so I think we're all conflicted about it. "

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