The idea of a normal Christmas this year with large family gatherings is “fiction” and people should be “digital-Christmas ready”, Nicola Sturgeon’s public health adviser has said.
Jason Leitch, the Scottish government’s national clinical director, who regularly flanks Sturgeon in her daily coronavirus briefings, told BBC Radio Scotland it was too early to say what the situation would be in late December. But Christmas would “absolutely” not be normal.
“I’m worried firstly about Halloween and 5 November, and then we may turn our minds to Christmas. I’m hopeful [imposing restrictions] now may get us a more normal family Christmas but Christmas is not going to be normal,” he said. “There’s absolutely no question about that.
“We’re not going to be in large family groupings with multiple families coming round. That is fiction for this year, but I’m hopeful if we can get the numbers down to a certain level we may be able to get some form of normality but people should get their digital Christmas ready.”
The first minister will unveil Scotland’s five-tier Covid-19 alert system on Friday. Leitch confirmed that it would a very tough top tier, which would be similar to a full lockdown. He said ministers and their health advisers were still working out which council areas would be put in which tier.
Family gatherings indoors are currently banned in Scotland. Pubs and restaurants across central Scotland are closed, and people are urged not to travel except if essential or for work, as part of circuit-breaker style controls introduced for cities including Edinburgh and Glasgow, which affect about 3.4 million people.
Leitch and Sturgeon have said similar controls will continue to be in force, to varying degrees, in coming months.
To the alarm of hospitality businesses, Sturgeon announced on Wednesday that the central Scotland restrictions would remain in force for a third week until the new multi-tier system comes into force on Monday 2 November.
Scotland has, like many other parts of the UK and Europe, recorded a surge in cases during October. It passed the 50,000 infections mark on Wednesday and had the highest number of daily deaths since late May, with 28 deaths of people who had had positive Covid-19 tests.
Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said Leitch’s warnings showed that the Scottish government had failed to control the virus.
“People have made huge sacrifices for months on end, they will be devastated to hear that Christmas as they know it is cancelled this year. Many will rightly question whether the government have used the past six months as well as they could have to expand testing, shore up our NHS and prepare for a second wave.
“If the government expects months more of sacrifices it needs to be honest with the public. Nicola Sturgeon must release the data and projections underpinning these proposals and allow the public to debate them openly.”