Scotland’s First Minister warned that “many more” cases of the new coronavirus variant may emerge.
All nine cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus in Scotland can be traced back to a single event on November 20, Nicola Sturgeon said, as she warned of the possibility of “many more” people being infected.
There are now five cases in the Lanarkshire area and four in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, up from the six across the two areas announced on Monday.
The First Minister said contact tracing work had been carried out and more cases were expected to emerge in the coming days.
She told the Scottish Parliament this suggested there was community transmission of Omicron in Scotland, though it may still be limited.
Ms Sturgeon said: “None of these individuals – as far as we know – has recent travel history to or known links with others who have travelled to the countries in southern Africa where the variant was originally detected.
“However, while the contact tracing exercise is still ongoing, health protection teams have established that all nine cases are linked.
“They all trace back to a single private event on 20 November.
“Indeed, we fully expect that there will be more cases identified over the coming days that are also linked to this event.”
She added: “Public Health Scotland is working hard to identify any and all cases of Omicron in Scotland as quickly as possible and I’m very grateful to them for these efforts.
“However, given the nature of transmission, I consider it highly likely, indeed almost certain, that more cases, perhaps many more cases, will emerge.”
She said the enhanced surveillance being undertaken gives the best chance of containing the spread.
The First Minister said that overall Covid-19 infection levels have been falling, with cases down 15% in the past week along with falls in the number of patients in hospital and intensive care.
She said Scotland had recorded 10 coronavirus-linked deaths and 2,569 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the death toll under this daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – to 9,572.
There were 706 people in hospital north of the border with recently confirmed Covid-19 as of Monday night and, of these, 54 people were in intensive care.
So far, 4,346,736 people in Scotland have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination, 3,949,736 have had a second, and 1,687,792 have been given a third dose or booster.
Booster vaccinations are being extended to all those aged 18 and over in Scotland in line with the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommendation, with the interval after the second dose cut from six to three months.
The First Minister said she hoped no additional restrictions, apart from the changes to travel previously announced, would be needed but stressed that it “depends on all of us”.
She urged people to comply with the regulations in place, including wearing masks and working from home if possible.
People should take lateral flow tests before meeting other households, she said, and these will be made more widely available in places such as shopping centres and sports grounds for ease of access.
She said: “If we treat the news of the new variant as an opportunity to raise our guard again we can give ourselves the best possible chance of enjoying not just a more normal Christmas but a safer Christmas, too, and also avoiding any tighter restrictions in the weeks ahead.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said there was “anxiety and concern” that the nine Scots known to be infected with the Omicron strain had not travelled abroad, meaning they had probably caught the virus in their community.
In response, Ms Sturgeon said: “That was a cause of concern because that is indicative of community transmission.
“That is still the case, but I think today the work that health protection teams through Test and Protect have done, identifying that all of these cases are linked – and linked to one event – actually slightly reduces that anxiety because it gives us more assurance that community transmission is not widespread.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross called for “even more urgency” getting people vaccinated and asked for the reopening of mass vaccination centres.
He said: “Nobody wants to see restrictions return. We’re all completely fed up with this virus and the limits that it has placed on our lives for nearly two years now, but we have to be realistic, sensible and evaluate the situation fully as we learn more about this new variant.
“But while we wait for more information, we are not defenceless against this virus.”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “As of today, more than a million people are eligible than were eligible this time yesterday.
“So we clearly have to find more staff and more facilities to speed that up – that’s the work that is under way right now.”