The coronavirus isolation period in Scotland is to be reduced from 10 days to seven, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
The first minister revealed the change, which will come into effect from midnight and brings Scotland broadly in line with the rest of the UK, during a virtual session of the Scottish Parliament.
People will be able to leave their isolation after seven days provided they test negative for COVID-19 on lateral flow tests for the last two days and have no fever.
They will be asked to take a lateral flow test no earlier than day six and a second test at least 24 hours later.
Ms Sturgeon also said that asymptomatic individuals who return a positive lateral flow will not have to confirm their result with a PCR test.
From Thursday, Scots without symptoms who test positive will be asked to isolate straight away and register their result online to allow contact tracing to take place.
“The safest thing to do at this stage is treat a positive lateral flow test as confirmation of COVID,” the first minister told MSPs.
“This allows us to maximise testing capacity and ensure a speedier start to the process of contact tracing and advice.”
Scots told to continue limiting social contacts
Household contacts of a person who has COVID will no longer have to isolate for 10 days, instead taking lateral flow tests for seven days and isolating if any of them come back positive.
This applies to those who have been fully vaccinated, including a booster jab, those under the age of 18 years and four months old.
Ms Sturgeon said that restrictions on large gatherings and hospitality and leisure will stay in place until at least 17 January.
The COVID situation has not improved enough to scrap the measures, the first minister said, adding that people should continue limiting their social contacts.
“After two long years of this pandemic, asking people to cut all social interaction is not feasible – and it would be damaging to mental health and wellbeing,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“However, limiting contacts insofar as we can, and thinking carefully about the interactions that matter most to us, is important just now.”
She added: “When at least one in 20 of us have the virus, as is the case now, the risk of getting it when we mix with others is significant.
“So if we limit the occasions on which we do mix, we also reduce our own risk of catching a virus that we know could have a nasty impact on our health.”
To help businesses affected by the continuing measures, the first minister announced a further £55m in support.
A total of £28m will go to taxis and private hire drivers, £19m will go to services such as beauticians and hairdressers, and £5m will be provided for sport and £3m for tourism.
Sturgeon promises new road map in weeks to come
Ms Sturgeon cautioned that the volume of COVID cases “still has the potential to overwhelm us” and the current phase of the pandemic is “possibly the most challenging so far”.
Cases have risen by 87% in the past week, with the number of people in hospital increasing by 80% in the same timeframe, to 1,223.
But the number of people in intensive care is “remaining stable”, the first minister said.
The first minister said that a new road map for handling the pandemic will be published in the next few weeks, with Scotland having to “adapt our thinking about how to manage the virus and become more resilient to it in future”.
“There are no easy answers here, but adapting to the ongoing challenge of COVID is inescapable,” Ms Sturgeon said.
She said the changes to isolation were an “early indication of an already adapting response”.