NICOLA Sturgeon has confirmed a ten-fold increase in Omicron cases in Scotland in just a week.

The First Minister, who delivered a Covid-19 update at Holyrood, said 99 cases of the new coronavirus strain have now been confirmed, an increase of 28 from Monday.

Nine of the country's 14 health boards have now reported Omicron infections.

“To give a sense of the speed of increase – albeit at this stage from a low level – the figure I reported this time last week was nine, " Sturgeon said. "So, we have seen more than a tenfold increase in the space of a week.

“A still low – at around 4% – but steadily rising proportion of cases also now show the S gene drop out that, as I said a moment ago, is indicative of Omicron.

“Our estimate at this stage is that the doubling time for Omicron cases may be as short as two to three days, and that the R number associated with the new variant may be well over two.”

The Omicron variant, the FM explained, can be confirmed with a "reasonable degree of ceertainty" to be more transmissible than the now dominant Delta.

She desribed the variant's emergence as “another serious moment” in the pandemic which has prompted the Government to start carrying out a daily review of Covid restrictions.

“We can assume already that the emergence of Omicron is a significant challenge for all of us,” the First Minister told MSPs.

“A variant that is more transmissible than Delta, and which has even a limited ability to evade natural or vaccine immunity, has the potential to put very intense additional pressure on the health service.

“And a key point we must understand is this. The sheer weight of numbers of people who could be infected as a result of increased transmissibility and some immunity evasion will create this pressure even if the disease the new variant causes in individuals is no more severe than Delta.”

READ MORE: Scotland records 12 Covid deaths and more than 3000 new cases

The SNP leader added that she hoped current restrictions, including new testing rules for incoming travellers, would prevent the need for further restrictions – but she warned that can’t be “guaranteed”.

The Scottish Government will make decisions to keep the country safe rather than what is popular, Sturgeon told Parliament.

With cases on the rise and the Omicron variant spreading in the community, the First Minister said she and her ministers would strive to strike a balance between restrictions and the harms they cause.

“For the Scottish Government, our first principle will be to seek to do what is necessary to keep the country as safe as possible, even if that is at the expense of being popular,” she said. “And, second, we will strive to get the right balance between acting proportionately and acting preventatively.

“We know from experience that with an infectious virus acting quickly can be vital – if we wait too long for data to confirm we have a problem, it might already be too late to prevent the problem.

“In fact, acting preventatively is often the best way of ensuring that action can remain limited and proportionate.”

READ MORE: Scots told to expect more Omicron Covid outbreaks before Christmas

She also called on younger Scots to come forward for their vaccines, warning a “significant” number of under-30s have not had both jags.

And the SNP leader said she will be writing to Boris Johnson to urge him to better support developing countries to obtain vaccine doses.

“I certainly call on the Prime Minister to take whatever action he can to ensure that we get vaccines equitably to the population of the world as quickly as possible," she told MSPs.

“It is fundamentally the case, as Omicron is reminding us, that until every across the world is safe, none of us is truly safe, so we are very keen to explore further routes that support equitable access to vaccines.

“I will write to the Prime Minister on this to encourage him to take whatever action is necessary, but also to offer the full cooperation of the Scottish Government in doing so.”

Finally, Sturgeon stressed the importance of working from home and regular testing in stemming the rise in cases.

The First Minister told MSPs that advice would remain to work from home when possible until at least the middle of January.

“I know this is difficult, but I cannot stress enough how much difference we think this could make in helping stem transmission and avoid the need for even more onerous measures,” she said.

She also urged Scots to follow rules around testing and self-isolation should they have symptoms, as well as regular lateral flow testing.

“I am not excluding myself from this,” the SNP leader added.

“I am currently doing a test every morning before coming to work and I will do a test on any occasion I mix with others over the festive period. I will ask anyone visiting my home over Christmas to do likewise.”

Sturgeon also urged MSPs to “lead by example” on testing.