NICOLA Sturgeon has suggested a new coronavirus variant may cause a further delay to holding a second independence referendum.

The First Minister was appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr this morning when she was asked about the Omicron strain and whether it could affect her plans to hold a new vote. 

She paused plans to hold indyref2 just after the pandemic broke out in March last year but has since said she wants to hold a referendum before the end of 2023 on the condition that the crisis is over.

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Asked by Marr whether the arrival of the new variant could delay indyref2 plans again, Sturgeon said she didn't yet know the answer.

She went on: "As long as necessary, steering and leading Scotland through this pandemic is my focus and my priority."

She said that although it looked as if the nation was about to "turn a corner" earlier in the week, the Omicron variant may have changed that.

With the First Minister due to give the closing address to the SNP conference tomorrow, Marr then asked if she would tell her party when the referendum would be. 

She replied: "I think if I stood up to my party as I will do tomorrow and told them that I alone in the world could see when this Covid pandemic was going to end then people would look at me a bit askance. 

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"I am a politician but a politician that tries to be as straight as I can with people. And people are entitled to judge the quality of those answers. We're in a global pandemic.

"It's still causing us serious challenges. I take my duties as First Minister very seriously. My primary duty right now is to the lead the country through the pandemic and hopefully soon out the other end of it."

Sturgeon said no cases of the new variant have been detected in Scotland yet, but suggested it was inevitable that cases would be identified in the country.

Two cases have been detected in England. Both are linked cases and have been found in Nottingham and Brentwood, Essex, and are believed to have been contracted in southern Africa.

Scientists have said they are concerned about the B.1.1.529 variant as it has around 30 different mutations – which is double the number present in the Delta variant and may make it more transmissable.

There are also concerns the existing Covid vaccines may not be as effective against it.