JOHN Swinney has hinted that Covid self-isolation rules in Scotland could be cut from 10 to seven days when Nicola Sturgeon updates MSPs on Wednesday.

The Deputy First Minister and Covid Recovery Secretary confirmed that the First Minister would issue an update on the situation regarding isolation during a virtual session of the Scottish Parliament.

Scotland is currently the only country in the UK that asks people to isolate for 10 days after Northern Ireland changed its rules from December 31 allowing people to stop self-isolating on day seven if they have negative lateral flow results on that day and the previous one.

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The Scottish Government has faced calls to reduce the isolation period amid fears over the impact of staff absences on the NHS and social care, as well as on schools and other services including the transport network, as well as on businesses.

As numbers of new cases of the virus continue to rise - with some 20,000 reported yesterday - thousands of NHS and social care staff are off work due to testing positive for Covid or having to remain at home after coming into contact with someone who contracted the virus. 

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The current self-isolation rules require a whole household to isolate if one member tests positive, a change to the rule from last Autumn.

During an interview on the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme Swinney hinted there could be a change to the rules.

He said: "We're actively considering the issue of reducing the self isolation period.

"The First Minister confirmed that to parliament in the virtual session on the 29th of December, and further details will be shared with parliament in its virtual session tomorrow.

"We're obviously looking at the clinical advice that is crucial in the hands of this because as I've indicated before in these discussions, we do not in any way shape or form serve anybody's interests if we ignore the clinical dimension of this issue."

In a virtual session of the parliament on December 29, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross urged the Government to change the rules.

The First Minister responded that the Government needed to "take a few more days before making a decision" in light of the escalating number of cases but that any cases would come into effect "immediately after the new year holidays".

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She also added that the Government would be considering the requirement for a whole household to isolate if one member tests positive.

"Although the focus is on reducing self-isolation for index cases from 10 days to seven days, because England has already done that, that is not the only change that we should be considering.

"We have a situation right now in the wake of Omicron in which we ask all household contacts of positive cases to isolate for 10 days.

"I hope that we can ease that measure as well. However, it makes sense to ensure that we are making changes in a coherent manner," she told MSPs.

Speaking ahead of the First Minister's update, Tory and Labour politicians called for the isolation period to be cut.

Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross said: “Scotland has the strictest self-isolation rules anywhere in the United Kingdom.

"We understand the need for caution, but Nicola Sturgeon’s dithering and delaying is continuing to have a major impact on frontline services and the wider economy, due to the sheer numbers having to isolate.

“She must finally confirm in her latest update that the period of isolation will be cut to seven days, for those who have tested negative twice.

“Her indecision, coupled with new restrictions, has harmed many businesses at what should have been their busiest time of the year.

“We’ve been calling for weeks for these changes to self-isolation rules to be done safely and since then we’ve seen more evidence that the Omicron variant is proving to be less severe in terms of the impact it is having on those who get the virus.

“Nicola Sturgeon must listen to the warnings from many crucial sectors and finally implement a cut in the length of time people have to isolate for.

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"We’ve seen Wales and Northern Ireland now do this, so people have rightly been asking why has the First Minister continued to wait to do likewise in Scotland?

“Her current approach is unsustainable and tomorrow’s update must finally bring in the necessary changes to protect essential services.”

Scottish Labour’s Health and Covid Recovery spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “Cases have risen dramatically in the last week, but thankfully so far the rate of new hospitalisations and people with Omicron in ICU remains low.

“But despite this positive news, the picture for our public services and businesses remains bleak. The number of staff absences from the NHS and social care is very high and this is having more of an impact on services.

“The SNP must use this update to confirm whether they will change self-isolation requirements in line with the latest evidence, to stop staff absences piling yet more pressure on businesses and services this winter.

“Scotland’s testing system is showing signs of considerable strain, leaving people across the country facing impossible decisions.

“Before any new restrictions can be justified the government must act to ensure our testing system is working properly and demonstrate the evidence that new rules would meet the unique challenges of Omicron.

“Schools across Scotland are beginning their return, but it is unclear what meaningful steps, such as improving ventilation, have been taken to stop the spread of Covid in the classroom.

“Scottish ministers taking to the airwaves to misrepresent the stats and brag about how much better we are doing than England miss the point.

“The battle is to save lives and livelihoods, not play cheap constitutional politics.”