FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has asked Scots to minimise the number of households they come into contact with as businesses face further restrictions. 

Sturgeon said that the measures are "protective" while the government "accelerates the pace of the booster programme".

She added that the number of cases of Omicron are "increasing exponentially" and account for 27.5% of all positive covid tests in Scotland.

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Omicron is expected to become the dominant strain circulating in Scotland "within days", Sturgeon added. 

The total number of cases have grown by a quarter over the past week, and across all age groups.

Announcing further restrictions, she said: "I’m appealing to everyone to follow today's advice to help slow omicron down while more of us get our boosters. Let me be clear, we do not do this lightly, I know how hard it is."

The First Minister set out that to "keep businesses open" a number of protections will need to be put in place. 

She said: "We intend to amend regulations to put a legal requirement on those running businesses or providing services to take measures which are reasonably practicable to minimise the risk of transmission.

"We will issue guidance this week to make clear what this means for different sectors."

For example, Sturgeon said, retail premises will need measures to avoid crowding and bottlenecks, including social distancing measures.

The National:

The First Minister announced the restrictions in Holyrood on Tuesday

Hospitality businesses will need to bring in measures to avoid crowding at bars and between tables and continue taking contact tracing information from customers. 

There will also be a legal requirement on employers to enable people to work from home. 

She said: "For employers more generally, the guidance will make clear that enabling staff who were working from home at the start of the pandemic to do so again is now a legal duty."

For those who cannot work from homes, such as hospitality and healthcare workers, Sturgeon asked them to "test regularly".

The First Minister added that the hardest ask she had was of the general public.

However, she said there would be no outright ban on households mixing due to the adverse impact this has on mental health. 

She said: "I want to be clear, I am not asking anyone to ‘cancel’ Christmas - but in the run-up to and in the immediate aftermath of Christmas, I am asking everyone to reduce as far as possible, and to a minimum, the contacts we have with people in other households. I will say more about Christmas Day in a moment.

"We are not banning or restricting household mixing in law as before. We understand the negative impact this has on mental health and wellbeing.

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"But we are asking everyone - and we will issue strong guidance to this effect - to cut down as far as possible the number of people outside our own households that we are interacting with just now.

"This will help break transmission chains.

"So my key request today is this - before and immediately after Christmas, please minimise your social mixing with other households as much as you can."

The First Minister asked the public not to gather in groups of more than three households.

Sturgeon said that it could be argued that the Scottish Government should "go further" with restrictions, but as they are unable to borrow to "meet the covid funding challenge" they are left at the mercy of the Treasury.

With the UK Government not proposing any further restrictions, Sturgeon said, "there is no funding generated to compensate businesses for any protections we wish to put in place".

She added that the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments are pressing the UK for a "fairer approach" that takes account of devolved responsibilities. 

The First Minister said that the government would have taken further steps if they weren't "curtailed by lack of finance".

She added: "However, I can confirm that with some considerable difficulty, we have managed to identify within our own resources around £100 million that we will use to help businesses, mainly those in hospitality and food supply, affected by our advice last week on work Christmas parties and further affected by what I have said today.

"The Finance Secretary and her officials will be engaging with affected sectors immediately to consult on and confirm the details of support."