OMICRON is now the dominant strain of Covid-19 circulating in Scotland, the First Minister has said.

The variant now likely accounts for 51.4% of positive Covid-19 cases in Scotland, she said.

Nicola Sturgeon added that the number of Omicron cases are "rising exponentially" in Scotland, adding that the emergence of the variant is the "cruellest of blows". 

It comes as the First Minister said the government wants as many people as possible to get a booster vaccine "by the time the bells strike on Hogmanay" to slow the spread of the virus. 

READ MORE: UK Government 'inaction will make Omicron crisis much worse', Nicola Sturgeon says

The First Minister said that as of 5pm on Thursday there were 696 cases of Omicron in Scotland confirmed through genomic sequencing.

However, PCR tests can be analysed for the absence of the S-gene, which is a specific genetic characteristic of Omicron, and around 95% of all covid tests in Scotland are analysed in that way.

Sturgeon said: "This has revealed over the past couple of weeks that Omicron cases have been rising exponentially.

"Indeed faster than anything experienced previously in the pandemic, and as you’ve heard me say in recent days cases have been doubling every two to three days.

The National:

The First Minister said Omicron is now the dominant strain in Scotland

"Now last Friday when I stood here I reported that the S-gene indicator was telling us then that 15.5% of all cases were likely to be the Omicron variant, today it is 51.4%.

"So that does mean Omicron has now replaced Delta as the dominant covid strain circulating in Scotland, and that presents a challenge because we know Omicron is significantly more transmissible than Delta.

"It has an R number that is possibly above four and therefore it is driving and the bigger proportion of cases are Omicron the more it will drive or the more it risks driving a much steeper increase in cases overall."

READ MORE: First Tory MP confirms sending letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson 

Sturgeon said that coronavirus cases in Scotland had increased by more than 40% in the past week.

It is now expected that an increase in cases will “continue and accelerate”, the First Minister told a media briefing.

She added: “The tsunami I warned about a week ago is now starting to hit us.”

Sturgeon stressed the need to slow down the spread of the virus, saying: “As of now the scale and the immediacy of the challenge is of profound concern.”

London, which has the highest number of Omicron cases in the UK, is already seeing rising hospital numbers, she added.

The National:

The First Minister urged Scots to get a booster jab to stop the spread of the virus

Sturgeon said: “If we don’t act now, what we have feared all along since the very start of this pandemic but so far have managed to avoid, the overwhelming of the NHS, could happen.

“That is one very important reason why slowing this down matters so much.”

She went on to say the issue was not one for just the health service, saying the number of people having to isolate after testing positive is “already putting a significant strain on the economy and on other critical services”.

Sturgeon added: “As people become infected we lose drivers for trains, we lose teachers from classrooms, we lose nurses from hospital wards and workers  from businesses the length and breadth of the country.”

It comes as more than half of all Scots aged over 18 already have already had their booster jab, with the government setting a target for Hogmanay.

READ MORE: North Shropshire: Tories give Boris Johnson a stark warning after huge defeat

The First Minister added that measures such as limiting the number of households you meet with and taking lateral flow tests before any plans would act as a "safety net".

She added: “My fundamental ask of everyone right now is this – in the run-up to Christmas stay at home much more than you normally would and stay at home as much as you can.

“If what matters most to you is spending time with your loved ones on Christmas Day, don’t risk that by going out before then and possibly catching Covid.

“Because the reality is if you are mixing with others just now, getting this virus is a real and increasing risk. Covid, in this new Omicron form, is circulating really widely right now, and it is very, very infectious.”

📺 Watch live: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon holds a press conference on #coronavirus (#COVIDー19).

Joining the First Minister today is Chief Medical Officer Professor Gregor Smith.

The First Minister added that the emergency of the variant and the consequences is "really awful".

She said: “I think many of us are finding it even harder this Christmas than last year, I know that is the way I am feeling right now.

“Just three weeks ago I really thought we had turned a corner and had a genuine prospect of a much more normal run-up to Christmas.

READ MORE: FM details why large events aren't being cancelled - but hints at change

“The emergence of Omicron really has been the cruellest of blows. So it is quite understandable we are all feeling sad, upset, frustrated, even angry about this. Believe me, I am not immune from these feelings.”

But she insisted vaccination meant the country was in “so much better a position now than this time last year because of vaccination”.

She stated: “Every booster put into someone’s arm right now is another brick in this wall of protection that I do believe will increasingly defend us against Omicron as we go into the New Year.”

There were seven coronavirus deaths in Scotland and 4336 cases recorded in the past 24 hours.

The Covid-19 death toll in Scotland under the daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – now stands at 9771.

The daily test positivity rate was 10.1%, down from 10.8% the previous day.

There were 522 people in hospital on Thursday with recently confirmed Covid-19, down 10 on the day before, with 33 in intensive care, down one.